Climate change isn’t just bad for the planet’s health—it’s bad for people’s too. Effects will vary by age, gender, geography, and socioeconomic status—and so will remedies. A recent international study in the Lancet says that many more people will be exposed to extreme weather events over the next century than previously thought—“a potentially catastrophic risk to human health” that could undo 50 years of global health gains.
Solutions are in the works. In flood-prone Benin, national health insurance has been expanded to cover diseases likeliest to increase as the world warms and sea levels rise. In the steamy Philippines, programs are helping low-income residents manage weather-related risks with loans, hygiene education, and waste and water control. Meanwhile public health experts everywhere are calling for new measures to help people stay healthy despite floods, droughts, and heat waves.
Power outages in extreme weather could cripple hospitals and transportation systems when we need them most.
Crop declines could lead to undernutrition, hunger, and higher food prices. More CO2 in the air could make staple crops like barley and soy less nutritious.
Occupational hazards such as risk of heatstroke will rise, especially among farmers and construction workers. Labor could shift to dawn and dusk, times when more disease-carrying insects are out.
Hotter days, more rain, and higher humidity will produce more ticks, which spread infectious diseases like Lyme disease. Ticks could be in much of the eastern U.S. by 2080.
Trauma from floods, droughts, and heat waves can lead to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and suicide.
More heat can mean longer allergy seasons and more respiratory disease. More rain increases mold, fungi, and indoor air pollutants.
Mosquito-borne dengue fever has increased 30-fold in the past 50 years. Three-quarters of those exposed so far live in the Asia-Pacific region.
Senior citizens and poor children—especially those already afflicted with malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea—tend to be most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.
Drought and chronic water shortages harm rural areas and 150 million city dwellers. If localities don’t adjust quickly, that number could be nearly a billion by 2050.
Rising sea levels can threaten freshwater supplies for people living in low-lying areas. More severe storms can cause city sewage systems to overflow.