Climate

Most Americans Aren’t Aware Of The Health Impacts Of Climate Change

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The health impacts of climate change aren’t on most Americans’ radars, with few Americans able to name a climate-related health impact, according to a new poll.

The poll, released by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, found that though a “solid majority” — 63 percent — of Americans think climate change is generally bad for people’s health, most aren’t able to list any particular health impact of climate change. Only about one in four poll respondents were able to list a specific climate-related impact, such as asthma, lung diseases, or death as a result of an extreme weather event. Fewer still could name a different health-related impact: less than 5 percent listed things like allergies, vector-borne diseases, or hunger related to crop failure.

health poll

CREDIT: Yale Project On Climate Change Communication

In addition, the poll found that Americans are unclear about who suffers the most from climate-related health impacts. Thirty-one percent of poll respondents thought climate change was harming the health of Americans a “great deal” or “moderate amount,” but only 17 percent thought they or someone in their household was currently being harmed. And most respondents didn’t know that some communities in America were more vulnerable than others to climate-related health effects: 8 percent knew that the elderly were particularly at risk, while 7 percent knew that the poor were and only 1 percent knew that some communities of color were.

There have been multiple studies in the past about the risks posed by climate change to certain communities. A 2009 study, for instance, found that the poor and people of color are often the ones hit hardest from climate change. That study found that black people living in Los Angeles were twice as likely to die from a heat wave as white people, due to the fact that most of them live in the inner city, where they’re most likely to feel the impacts of the urban heat island effect, and the fact that they’re less likely to have access to cars or air conditioning. The elderly, too, are particularly susceptible: Environmental Protection Agency studies have found that people aged 65 and older are more vulnerable to elevated temperatures and extreme weather.

Poll respondents also weren’t clear on what health impacts are expected to get worse as the climate warms. Less than half of respondents thought that pollen-related allergies, heat stroke, asthma and other lung diseases would become more common in their communities over the next decade.

Still, many respondents did call for more action on climate change. Nearly half of the respondents thought that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FEMA, Congress and state governments should be doing more to combat climate change. In addition, the poll identified the best ways for Americans to learn about the health impacts of climate change: nearly half of poll respondents trusted their primary care doctor for climate-related health information, while 41 percent trusted their family and friends and 40 percent trusted climate scientists. This result could point to the need for more health care providers to share information about climate change and health to their patients.

Health impacts remain a major complication of climate change. As the climate warms, diseases such as malaria, which is carried by mosquitoes, are expected to expand as regions that were once too cool (or otherwise inhabitable) for mosquitoes become warmer and more inviting. Studies have also found that, as more carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere, pollen counts will likely go up, which means a more intense allergy season. Researchers have also linked warming temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.