Climate Change

Glacial CalvingClimate change, caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, is driven by human activity. Anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon are primarily responsible for the changing climate. Burning fossil fuels and clearing natural habitats for human use produce the majority of these emissions. Climate change continues to cause glacial melting in Greenland and the Antarctic, rising sea levels, increases in global mean surface temperatures, increases in extreme weather events, and changes in the abundance, distribution, and composition of species. Climate change and the above ecosystem transformations are inextricably connected; as a result, these changes and impacts mutually exacerbate each other.

Learning Objectives

  • L1: Summarize climatic changes over time, highlighting specific eras in human history.
  • L2: Describe and discuss the anthropogenic drivers of climate change.
  • L3: Consider strategies for climatic adaptation and mitigation with a focus on human health.
  • L4: Critically evaluate the purpose and effectiveness of recent global climate change policies and events, considering the roles of key stakeholders.


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Summers JK, Smith LM, Harwell LC, Buck KD. Conceptualizing holistic community resilience to climate events: Foundation for a climate resilience screening index . GeoHealth [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The concept of resilience has been evolving over the past decade as a way to address the current and future challenges nations, states, and cities face from a changing climate. Understanding how the environment (natural and built), climate event risk, societal interactions, and governance reflect community resilience for adaptive management is critical for envisioning urban and natural environments that can persist through extreme weather events and longer-term shifts in climate. To be successful, this interaction of these five domains must result in maintaining quality of life and ensuring equal access to the benefits or the protection from harm for all segments of the population. An exhaustive literature review of climate resilience approaches was conducted examining the two primary elements of resilience—vulnerability and recoverability. The results of this review were examined to determine if any existing frameworks addressed the above five major areas in an integrated manner. While some aspects of a resilience model were available for existing sources, no comprehensive approach was available. A new conceptual model for resilience to climate events is proposed that incorporates some available structures and addresses these five domains at a national, regional, state, and county spatial scale for a variety of climate-induced events ranging from superstorms to droughts and their concomitant events such as wildfires, floods, and pest invasions. This conceptual model will be developed in a manner that will permit comparisons among governance units (e.g., counties) and permit an examination of best reliance practices.

Anenberg SC, Weinberger KR, Roman H, Neumann JE, Crimmins A, Fann N, Martinich J, Kinney PL. Impacts of oak pollen on allergic asthma in the United States and potential influence of future climate change . GeoHealth [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Future climate change is expected to lengthen and intensify pollen seasons in the U.S., potentially increasing incidence of allergic asthma. We developed a proof-of-concept approach for estimating asthma emergency department (ED) visits in the U.S. associated with present-day and climate-induced changes in oak pollen. We estimated oak pollen season length for moderate (Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5) and severe climate change scenarios (RCP8.5) through 2090 using five climate models and published relationships between temperature, precipitation, and oak pollen season length. We calculated asthma ED visit counts associated with 1994–2010 average oak pollen concentrations and simulated future oak pollen season length changes using the Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program, driven by epidemiologically derived concentration-response relationships. Oak pollen was associated with 21,200 (95% confidence interval, 10,000–35,200) asthma ED visits in the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest U.S. in 2010, with damages valued at $10.4 million. Nearly 70% of these occurred among children age <18 years. Severe climate change could increase oak pollen season length and associated asthma ED visits by 5% and 10% on average in 2050 and 2090, with a marginal net present value through 2090 of $10.4 million (additional to the baseline value of $346.2 million). Moderate versus severe climate change could avoid >50% of the additional oak pollen-related asthma ED visits in 2090. Despite several key uncertainties and limitations, these results suggest that aeroallergens pose a substantial U.S. public health burden, that climate change could increase U.S. allergic disease incidence, and that mitigating climate change may have benefits from avoided pollen-related health impacts.

Gan RW, Ford B, Lassman W, Pfister G, Vaidyanathan A, Fischer E, Volckens J, Pierce JR, Magzamen S. Comparison of wildfire smoke estimation methods and associations with cardiopulmonary-related hospital admissions. GeoHealth [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Climate forecasts predict an increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires. Associations between health outcomes and population exposure to smoke from Washington 2012 wildfires were compared using surface monitors, chemical-weather models, and a novel method blending three exposure information sources. The association between smoke particulate matter ≤2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) and cardiopulmonary hospital admissions occurring in Washington from 1 July to 31 October 2012 was evaluated using a time-stratified case-crossover design. Hospital admissions aggregated by ZIP code were linked with population-weighted daily average concentrations of smoke PM2.5 estimated using three distinct methods: a simulation with the Weather Research and Forecasting with Chemistry (WRF-Chem) model, a kriged interpolation of PM2.5 measurements from surface monitors, and a geographically weighted ridge regression (GWR) that blended inputs from WRF-Chem, satellite observations of aerosol optical depth, and kriged PM2.5. A 10 μg/m3 increase in GWR smoke PM2.5 was associated with an 8% increased risk in asthma-related hospital admissions (odds ratio (OR): 1.076, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.019–1.136); other smoke estimation methods yielded similar results. However, point estimates for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) differed by smoke PM2.5 exposure method: a 10 μg/m3 increase using GWR was significantly associated with increased risk of COPD (OR: 1.084, 95%CI: 1.026–1.145) and not significant using WRF-Chem (OR: 0.986, 95%CI: 0.931–1.045). The magnitude (OR) and uncertainty (95%CI) of associations between smoke PM2.5 and hospital admissions were dependent on estimation method used and outcome evaluated. Choice of smoke exposure estimation method used can impact the overall conclusion of the study.

Galvani AP, Bauch CT, Anand M, Singer BH, Levin SA. Human–environment interactions in population and ecosystem health. PNAS [Internet]. 2016;113 (51) :14502–14506. Publisher's VersionAbstract

As the global human population continues to grow, so too does our impact on the environment. The ingenuity with which our species has harnessed natural resources to fulfill our needs is dazzling. Even as we tighten our grip on the environment, however, the escalating extent of anthropogenic actions destabilizes long-standing ecological balances (12). The dangers of mining, refining, and fossil fuel consumption now extend beyond occupational or proximate risks to global climate change (3). Among a plethora of environmental problems, extreme climate events are intensifying (45). Storms, droughts, and floods cause direct destruction, but also have pervasive repercussions on food security, infectious disease transmission, and economic stability that take their toll for many years. For example, within weeks of the catastrophic wind and flood damage from the 2016 Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, there was a dramatic surge in cholera, among other devastating repercussions (67). In a world where 1% of the population possesses 50% of the wealth (8), those worst affected by extreme climatic events and the aftermath are also the least able to rebound.

Esham M, Jacobs B, Rosairo HSR, Siddighi BB. Climate change and food security: A Sri Lankan perspective . Environment, Development and Sustainability [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

There is growing concern in Sri Lanka over the impact of climate change, variability and extreme weather events on food production, food security and livelihoods. The link between climate change and food security has been mostly explored in relation to impacts on crop production or food availability aspects of food security, with little focus on other key dimensions, namely food access and food utilization. This review, based on available literature, adopted a food system approach to gain a wider perspective on food security issues in Sri Lanka. It points to several climate-induced issues posing challenges for food security. These issues include declining agriculture productivity, food loss along supply chains, low livelihood resilience of the rural poor and prevalence of high levels of undernourishment and child malnutrition. Our review suggests that achieving food security necessitates action beyond building climate resilient food production systems to a holistic approach that is able to ensure climate resilience of the entire food system while addressing nutritional concerns arising from impacts of climate change. Therefore, there is a pressing need to work towards a climate-smart agriculture system that will address all dimensions of food security. With the exception of productivity of a few crop species, our review demonstrates the dearth of research into climate change impacts on Sri Lanka’s food system. Further research is required to understand how changes in climate may affect other components of the food system including productivity of a wider range of food crops, livestock and fisheries, and shed light on the causal pathways of climate-induced nutritional insecurity.

Majeed H, Lee J. The impact of climate change on youth depression and mental health. The Lancet Planetary Health [Internet]. 2017;1 (3) :e94-e95. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Youth depression is a major risk factor for suicide, and a leading cause of disability worldwide,1–3hence its impact is both devastating and substantial. Although researchers have suggested several potential causal factors that contribute to the development of youth depression including genetic loading, low socioeconomic status, and adverse life events,2 the impact of climate change remains relatively unexplored. In the past three decades, global annual surface temperatures have increased by approximately 0·2°C per decade, giving rise to concerns for planetary and environmental human health.

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