Climate change represents one of the most significant threats to human health in the 21st century. The National Academy of Medicine (NAM), in collaboration with many units across the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), is developing an initiative to comprehensively assess the health risks of climate change and develop strategies to address both drivers and impacts.
The Intersection of Climate Change & Human Health – A Few Examples
- Infectious and chronic disease | Changes in temperature and rainfall may affect the lifespan, behavior, and geographic spread of mosquitoes and other carriers of infectious disease. As a result, new populations may be exposed to diseases that were previously well controlled. Changing weather patterns also influence levels of allergens and pollutants in the environment, exacerbating chronic conditions like asthma.
- Extreme weather events | Climate change increases the frequency, severity, and duration of events like hurricanes, wildfires, floods, heat waves, and droughts – all of which have serious consequences for health as well as implications for the design and location of hospitals and other health system infrastructure.
- Food and water | Changes in temperature, precipitation, and carbon dioxide levels affect the quality and availability of food and water worldwide and may increase the risk of food- and water-borne illness.
- Population migration, social stressors, and mental health | Climate-related stressors such as sea level rise or food and water scarcity may trigger major population displacements – presenting a significant challenge for health and social systems in communities around the world. These and other consequences of climate change also have serious implications for the mental health of impacted individuals, first responders, and caregivers.
Climate Change and Health Equity
The negative impacts of climate change disproportionately affect the very young and the very old, people who are ill, impoverished or homeless individuals, and populations that depend on the natural environment for survival. Urgent action is needed to mitigate the health consequences of climate change for these populations, among others.
Catalyzing Innovative Projects at the Interface of Human Health and Climate Change: NASEM Opportunity Grants
On December 5-6, 2019, the NASEM hosted an expert meeting to present the latest science and new opportunities for research and investment at the intersection of climate change and human health. Co-funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF), the meeting was designed to inform programmatic directions for the NAM and the NASEM. Following the meeting, the NAM and BWF are funding up to 10 “opportunity grants” for cross-disciplinary staff teams to undertake program development activities in the area of climate change and human health. Awardees will be announced in late February 2020.
- Climate at the National Academies (resource hub)
- Environmental Health Matters Initiative (resource hub)
- Climate Change, the Indoor Environment, and Health (2011 consensus report)
- Healthy, Resilient, and Sustainable Communities After Disasters (2015 consensus report)
- The Nexus of Biofuels, Climate Change, and Human Health (2014 workshop summary)
- Modeling the Health Risks of Climate Change (2015 workshop summary)
- Protecting the Health and Well-Being of Communities in a Changing Climate (2018 workshop proceedings)
Libbie Prescott, Director of Programs, NAM
Amanda Staudt, Director of the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, NASEM
Elizabeth Finkelman, Program Officer, NAM