Climate Change Threatens our Health and Deepens Health Inequities

Three briefs highlight how climate change magnifies health inequities rooted in structural racism.
Smog billows across the sky above a shipping port.
Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash

All across the United States, climate change is already reshaping our communities and making it harder to lead our healthiest lives.

The Issue

While the specific impacts of climate change are different depending on where we live, the harms are real and urgent everywhere. Climate change is making life less predictable, but it’s not just about more extreme weather: It’s changing our environment and undermining the work of building communities where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to lead a healthier life. 

The health impacts are wide ranging. Heart and lung disease is made worse by air pollution and heat. Peoples’ lives and mental health are at stake when they are forced to flee more severe hurricanes and wildfires. We’re seeing worsening allergies and asthma, more contaminated food and water, and the spread of diseases that are carried by ticks and mosquitos in new areas. All of these are connected to climate change.

And while climate change is taking its toll on the physical and mental health of everyone, the burden isn’t even or fair. Some of us feel it sooner and more intensely, depending on where we live or work, our race or ethnicity, age, income, or current health. And regardless of factors like income and jobs, there are some communities who face greater health burdens because of past and ongoing policies and disinvestment. For example, the communities on the frontlines of climate change often don't have the same support and resources from government that other communities have--and they're more likely to be home to people of color.

This set of briefs show how climate change is harming the health of all while also demonstrating how the health inequities we see today, which too often are the result of structural and systemic racism, are made even worse by a changing climate. The series explores:

  • How climate change makes urban areas hotter, especially for those who live in communities that experience disinvestment in the infrastructure to keep people cool in the face of increasing temperatures.

  • How climate change is threatening our ability to grow food through droughts and heat—and threatening those who work outdoors in agriculture.

  • How climate change is making our air less healthy, especially for communities with the greatest exposure to pollution, which are most likely to be home to people of color and people with low incomes.

Conclusion

Each of these briefs highlight the need for solutions to climate change that prioritize health and achieving health equity. Climate change is making us sicker and making our lives less stable, but when people, communities, and local and federal governments respond, we can build a healthier, safer future for everyone.

The Intersection of Health, Equity and Climate Change

Human health and the health of our planet, including the stability of our climate, are intertwined. Climate change is a major threat to any vision of a healthy future.