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CDPH Diagram - Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health

Figure 1. Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health (adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and J. Patz). 
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Climate Change and Health Impacts

Climate change is already affecting the health and well-being of Californians. Climate change threatens and harms human health through changes in environmental exposures, including more extreme heat and other severe weather events, worsened air quality, more frequent wildfires and smoke, increases in allergens, altered environmental conditions that foster the spread of infectious diseases, and other direct and indirect pathways. The resulting human health impacts include, but are not limited to, increased number of cases of heat-related illness and death, more air pollution-related cardiovascular and respiratory disease events, increased injury and loss of life due to wildfires, severe storms, and flooding, increased occurrences of vector-borne and water-borne diseases, and stress and mental trauma from loss of livelihoods, property loss, and displacement. 

While all Californians are affected by climate change, populations facing racial and health inequities, or systemic differences in racial and health status that are preventable and unfair, are impacted disproportionately (PDF)​. Certain population groups also have greater susceptibility to the health effects of climate change because of their proximity and sensitivity to climate-related environmental exposures and hazards. 
In general, populations at greater risk of
climate change-related health impacts include (but are not limited to) those who:​

  • Are experiencing homelessness

  • Are in particular age groups, such as older adults or infants and children

  • Are pregnant (e.g., extreme heat is associated with increased risk of preterm birth and stillbirth)

  • Have a disability, have access and functional needs (AFN), or are homebound

  • Are affected by chronic health conditions or other illness

  • Use electricity-dependent assistive technology and medical equipment

  • Are affected by certain mental health or behavioral health conditions, or substance abuse disorders

  • Are taking certain medications (e.g., during extreme heat, medications like antidepressants, beta-blockers and other heart medications, or substances like alcohol, can interfere with the body’s internal “thermostat” or impair sweating)

  • Are physically or socially isolated​

  • Are members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and other gender identities and sexual orientations (LGBTQ+) community (e.g., greater risk of being displaced during disasters​)

  • Are immigrants or refugees, especially those who lack the rights of citizenship 

  • ​Have limited English proficiency (LEP)​

  • Have lower incomes and/or are experiencing poverty

  • Have limited or no access to health services, including those without health insurance

  • Are from/of ​historically marginalized and/or under-resourced communities, particularly Tribal and Indigenous communities, and communities of color including Black, Latinx/e, and other populations

  • Live, work, or go to school in geographic areas more exposed to climate-related environmental exposures and hazards (e.g., coastal areas and sea level rise / flooding; urbanized areas that​ experience greater urban heat island effect; homes in areas at greater risk of wildfires)

  • Live in substandard housing

  • ​Live in mobile or manufactured homes, rental housing, or single room occupancy (SRO) units​

  • ​​​Work outdoors (e.g., agricultural workers, construction workers)

  • Work indoors in non-cooled / non-air conditioned spaces (e.g., warehouse workers), environments with poor indoor air quality, or other climate-vulnerable indoor environments

  • Work in protective service occupations, including emergency responders​

  • Are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated

  • Otherwise lack access and/or mobility options to travel to health-protective places (e.g., cooling / warming, clean air, extreme weather, or other community-based respite centers or shelters)

  • ​​Otherwise already experience social and health inequities​

Climate Change Worsens Existing Inequities

Climate change and health inequities share similar root causes: the inequitable distribution of social, political, and economic power. These power imbalances result in systems (economic, transportation, land use, housing, education, and more) and conditions that drive both health inequities and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As a result, we see communities with inequitable living conditions, such as historically marginalized and under-resourced communities of color (Black, Latinx/e, Indigenous, and others) living in more polluted areas, facing climate change impacts that compound and worsen existing vulnerabilities.

Fair and healthy climate action requires addressing the inequities that create and intensify community climate vulnerabilities, through strategically prioritizing investments in improving living conditions for and with people facing disadvantage

Learn how taking action to address the climate crisis can also promote health equity and build community resilience >>​

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