The dog days of summer were particularly dogged this year. July clocked in as the hottest month on record, marking the midpoint of what is likely to be the hottest year on record. With sweltering temperatures came a litany of crummy climate news — floods in Louisiana, Zika in Miami, searing heat waves across the Northeast — with dire implications for human health.
Last year’s Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change warned that the carbon crisis could undo the last half-century of progress in public health. And yet, for many, it remains unclear how climate change could land them in the hospital. Just one in four Americans can identify the ways that rising temperatures threaten their health.
To clarify that link, Climate Nexus and the American Public Health Association developed a series of infographics that illustrate the connection between climate change and all manner of life-threatening illness. [Disclosure: Climate Nexus and Nexus Media are both sponsored projects of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.]
Let’s begin with air quality. Climate change is producing shorter winters and longer summers, extending allergy season. Warmer weather is also worsening pollution by fueling the formation of ozone. Heat and drought are setting the stage for wildfires, like the blaze recently seen in California, which produce smoke, threatening respiratory health.
Rising temperatures are also producing longer and more severe heat waves, like the scorcher that just descended on the East Coast. Extreme heat can lead to dehydration and stroke. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable.
With extreme heat, expect to see more mosquitos. According to an analysis from Climate Central, climate change is extending mosquito season across the United States, expanding the range of vector-borne diseases, like Zika, which just made landfall in Florida.
Finally, severe storms, like the torrent that just hit Louisiana, are damaging infrastructure, leaving those many of those affected without food, shelter or access to clean water.
The good news is that slashing planet-warming carbon pollution would be a boon for public health. The Lancet Commission said that tackling climate change “could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.” Drastically reducing emissions from cars, planes, and power plants wouldn’t just curb the rise in temperatures. It would also prevent millions of deaths from air pollution.
As the country shifts to clean energy, we can expect big measurable gains in public health. For Americans currently sweating it out in the summer heat, that might offer a little consolation.
Jeremy Deaton and Mina Lee write and produce original artwork for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, politics, art and culture. You can follow them at @deaton_jeremy and @minalee89.