May 19, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

Earth Day, Climate Change, and Human Health

4 min read

Photo Credit: Valentina Shilkina

Earth Day provided a good moment to reflect on the climate, climate change, and, most importantly, how the climate directly impacts human health.


Earth Day provided a good moment to reflect on climate change and, most importantly, how the climate directly impacts human health. Human health and climate change are intricately linked, with climate and environmental changes impacting various aspects of human health. Some within the physician community think physicians and organizations should refrain from taking a stand on climate change and stick to the traditional health policy and reimbursement areas. However, this is an issue that we all must embrace, understand, and advocate for to improve the health of our communities.

Several health trends are directly linked to the changing environment. As global temperatures rise and more frequent and intense temperature fluctuations, heat-related illnesses become more common, especially in areas not traditionally impacted by heat waves. Elderly individuals, those with housing instability, and people who are unable to afford air conditioning are at particular risk. Warmer temperatures and altered precipitation patterns expand the geographic range of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and Lyme disease. Air pollution, particularly in urban areas, contributes to increased morbidity for those with asthma and COPD. Changes in precipitation patterns and extreme weather events can impact water quality and sanitation, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases like cholera and dysentery. Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can also impact crop yields, food supply, and availability. More frequent hurricanes, floods, and wildfires can impact mental health and lead to PTSD, anxiety, or depression.

The Physicians’ Role

Physicians can combat climate change by leveraging their expertise and influence through various avenues. For example, physicians and professional organizations can advocate for policies that promote clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and address environmental health disparities. They also can educate patients and communities about the health impacts of climate change and the importance of sustainable practices. This includes promoting active transportation, energy conservation, and sustainable food choices to reduce individual carbon footprints. Many doctors and public health workers actively engage in research, which can inform evidence-based public health interventions. Healthcare facilities are significant contributors to carbon emissions, and doctors can advocate for local and state implementation of sustainable practices within their institutions, such as reducing medical waste, transitioning to renewable energy sources, and adopting energy-efficient technologies. As hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other climate-related emergencies become more common, doctors can participate in emergency response planning and ensure healthcare systems are prepared. Physicians can work with scientists, engineers, policymakers, and community leaders to develop holistic solutions integrating health considerations into climate action plans. Lastly, doctors can lead by example in adopting sustainable personal and professional behaviors.

If you encounter someone who doubts the impact of climate change on human health, here are some key points you can use to communicate the evidence and consensus among scientists and health professionals. Most climate scientists and health experts agree that climate change already affects human health, supported by extensive evidence-based research and data. Direct observable impacts can be clearly seen in the epidemiologic data. There is no doubt that there have been increases in heat-related illnesses, changes in the distribution of infectious diseases, and worsening air quality. Encourage the skeptic to explore credible sources of information on climate change and health, such as scientific literature, reports from reputable organizations, and educational resources. Public health agencies and organizations such as the AMA, WHO, and many other national health agencies regularly emphasize the importance of addressing climate change for public health reasons.

Perhaps most impactful are personal stories or local examples of how climate change affected the health of your patients. You may not convince a skeptic in a single conversation, but you can plant the seed, open a dialogue, and let continued education help bridge gaps in understanding. As with all disagreements, the conversation must be approached with empathy and a willingness to address concerns or questions respectfully.

How to Learn More

For those who want to learn more, there are multiple valuable resources and information about the impact of climate change on human health:

Addressing climate change is essential not only for environmental sustainability but also for safeguarding human health and well-being. Mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation strategies to cope with changing conditions, and investments in public health infrastructure are vital. Physicians must be actively engaged and lead many of these efforts to ensure the health of communities, protect public health, and ultimately promote a healthier and more sustainable future for all.

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