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Climate Change

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California Environmental Health Tracking Program

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Last Edited: 9/16/2012

Climate Change, the Environment, and Health

Why is climate change a danger to public health?

Climate change will directly and indirectly impact health.  Direct health impacts may include injuries and deaths from floods, as well as illnesses and deaths from heat waves.  Indirect health impacts may include increases in infectious diseases and respiratory diseases, results of ecological changes and environmental degradation due to climate change.  The most immediate threats to public health in California are discussed in the topic areas below.

For more information, view the CDPH Climate Change and Public Health Webinar Series: Understanding the Public Health Impacts of Climate Change in California’s Vulnerable Populations.


Air Quality

Climate change and air pollution are closely linked.  Air pollution from human activities contributes to climate change, and the resulting increases in temperature are expected to worsen pollution.  Air pollution contributes to a number of respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Low-income communities and communities of color in California are especially vulnerable to air pollution.  Read more... 

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High temperatures, strong winds, and dry conditionsall favorable conditions for wildfireswill increase with climate change.  As California’s climate changes, wildfires will become more frequent and severe.  In addition to destroying wildlife and homes, wildfires have serious health impacts.  These health impacts include death and injury from burns or smoke inhalation, as well as the traumatic stress of experiencing such a disaster.  Read more...  

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Extreme Heat

The effects of extreme heat are already being felt throughout California and the entire country.  During the 2006 California heat wave, there were 16,166 more visits to the Emergency Department and 1,182 more hospitalizations than usual in the state.1  Similar extreme heat events are expected to increase over time.  The health impacts of extreme heat events range from mild heat cramps to death.  Certain populations, such as elderly people living alone, face much greater health risks during heat waves.  Read more... 

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Vector-borne Diseases

Vector-borne diseases (VBD) are infectious diseases that are transmitted to humans by animals, also called vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, lice, and rodents.  Climate change can cause vectors or the diseases they carry to multiply or spread out more rapidly.  When vectors spread to new areas where people live, work, or play, more people may be at risk of contracting VBD.  This is particularly true when vectors move into places that they have never inhabited before, or conversely, when people move into areas where vectors exist.  Read more...   

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Floods, Droughts, and Extreme Weather Events

As the climate changes, extreme weather events will occur more frequently.  Examples include droughts, which are caused by an extreme lack of precipitation, and floods, which are caused by an extreme abundance of precipitation.  These extreme weather events will impact health in many ways.  For example, changes in water runoff patterns will alter our food and water supplies.  In addition, changes in the weather and water runoff patterns will influence the spread of vector-borne diseases.  Floods can devastate our communities and result in drownings, infections, displacement from one's home, and long-lasting mental health effects.  Read more... 

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Sea Level Rise

Sea level is expected to rise in the coming decades as a result of melting of mountain glaciers, ice caps, and ice sheets.  As water temperatures increase with global temperature increases, ocean water will naturally expand, compounding the issue.  Over time, sea levels will encroach on land that is home to families, businesses, and communities.  It is estimated that a 5-foot increase in sea level would put nearly half a million Californians at risk of losing their homes to flooding.2  Read more... 

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1.  Knowlton K, Rotkin-Ellman M, King G, et al. The 2006 California Heat Wave: Impacts on Hospitalizations and Emergency Department Visits. Environ Health Perspect. January 2009. 117(1):61-7.

2.  Cayan D, Tyree M, Dettinger M, et al. Climate Change Scenarios and Sea Level Rise Estimates for the California 2009 Climate Change Scenarios Assessment. California Climate Change Center. August 2009. CEC-500-2009-014-F.

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