Climate Change: Taking Action for Equity

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For science.
Climate change poses one of the most significant public health threats today by creating a series of interconnected impacts on human health. As global temperatures rise, heatwaves become more frequent and increase the risk of heat stroke and make cardiovascular illnesses worse. Warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation expand the geographic range of disease-carrying insects, leading to more cases of vector-borne diseases, such as Zika virus. Increased greenhouse gas emissions make air quality worse by trapping pollution and increasing allergens that aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. Drought causes more frequent and intense wildfires, whose smoke further reduces air quality. Flooding from intense storms leads to property and infrastructure damage, mold growth, food scarcity and water contamination. Flooding can cause injury and death due to trauma and drowning and increase stress and anxiety that adversely affect mental health and wellness.

If we don’t move forward with solutions that address the severity of this crisis, these impacts will only get worse, and they will cause disproportionate harm to the most vulnerable among us. Certain populations — such as children, older adults, people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, communities of color, the unsheltered and outdoor workers — are disproportionately affected by climate pollution and climate change, whether because they are inherently more vulnerable or because their resilience has been hampered by a history of disinvestment and systemic racism.

For action.
While climate change hurts everyone, people of color and those with lower incomes experience greater health harms than white and wealthy people, despite being less responsible for the problem. To address social inequities and improve our health, we need to strengthen partnerships with communities most impacted by climate change, support community-directed solutions and improve access to health care.

Share your story to be a climate communicator because personal stories from trusted sources make the health effects of climate change relatable. Urge lawmakers to help public health and medical communities prepare for and respond to health threats caused by climate change. Advocate for policies that support a just transition to a low-carbon economy. Support your local health departments in their efforts to advance health equity and climate resilience.

For health.
Building strong communities makes them more resilient. Communities with greater cohesion have better health outcomes after climate-related disasters. Addressing climate change alongside other inequities, like racial injustice, helps improve the health of communities. If we can keep global warming increases below 2 degrees Celsius, we can dramatically improve the health of children born today, for their entire lives. And we know taking action to reduce and halt climate change today will result in fewer disease outbreaks and better mental health worldwide.

Where you are.
Structural racism has pushed lower-income communities and many people of color to areas that have fewer resources and more climate vulnerability, such as flood zones and urban heat islands. Race is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country, making air pollution an issue where low-income communities and people of color receive a disproportionate share of toxic air releases. People in impacted communities who are living with disabilities are at an even greater risk, as they often have limited access to health care services and emergency information and have historically high rates of illness, injuries or death from climate change events. That’s why we must address this global problem by investing in local solutions that meet the needs of front-line communities and address the disproportionate burdens they shoulder. Impacted communities need to be the drivers of climate policy and be meaningfully involved in decisionmaking. Public health leaders must work with communities to ensure the best science and policies that address climate injustice are in every conversation about climate change solutions.

American Public Health Association