People probably know that scientists have been studying climate change for years and looking at how a changing climate affects global temperatures and sea level rise, and that's important, but I think that most people don't know that there's hundreds of studies now connecting the dots between climate change and human health, and that's a big concern. Climate change is fueling more frequent—and more intense—and longer-lasting heat waves, and that heat is not just an inconvenience to people. It kills people. Some of the people who are most vulnerable to that extreme heat include children, and older adults, and households that are economically disadvantaged, and that's not just a few people; that amounts to many millions of people in the U.S. Another concern is air pollution. The warmer temperatures are, the higher the concentration of some really important air pollutants. Breathing ground-level ozone smog can irritate your eyes and your throat, and really damage your lungs and airways. There are other kinds of air pollutants that are also affected by climate change. Take the kind of pollens that can make allergy symptoms much, much worse, or even trigger an asthma attack. The longer our warm weather seasons, the more pollen is produced in the air.
So, it's like a double whammy for health: ozone smog, and pollen. There's another way, a third way, that climate change is affecting people's health, and that's insects and the illnesses that they can carry, like dengue fever, like West Nile virus, like Zika virus, that are carried by mosquitoes and Lyme disease that's carried by certain kinds of ticks. The thing is, people don't think often about how much those illnesses caused by climate change cost, and not just in human suffering and pain and illness, but in dollars and cents. It's big dollars. NRDC looked at just six of those kinds of events that have occurred very recently: a wildfire episode, a hurricane season, a flooding episode, a West Nile virus outbreak, and air pollution episode, a heat wave, and found that it costs over 14 billion dollars just to people's health. Those are costs that we don't think about and we need to.
I guess my hope as a scientist who studies climate change and health is not that people will get super bummed out listening to all of these effects, but that they'll be energized and demand preparedness and demand cleaner energy and demand building healthier and more secure communities for their children's future..