How climate change and air pollution can affect your health

Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord.

Jeffrey Shaman, director of the Climate and Health Program at the Mailman School of Public Health, pointed out that a changing climate may mean fundamental changes to human health.

Acquiring and using fossil fuels "has led to the disruption of the [climate] system that we have come to rely on," said Shaman pointing out civilization developed during the 11,000 year period of climate stability. "That disruption is a fundamental stressor on our system."

Without that climate stability, Shaman and other public health officials have found that there are risks to public health from multiple factors including extreme weather, spreading populations of insects and irritating airborne pollutants.

"Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults," Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO, said in a statement. "For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last."

In some cases, people who already have underlying heart disease can have a heart attack after being triggered by high levels of pollutants causes plaque to rupture, according to the American Heart Association.

“This kind of pushes them over the cliff,” Dr. Russell Luepker, a cardiologist and the Mayo professor in the School of Health at the University of Minnesota, said in a statement.


The pollutants are believed to harm the respiratory system by causing inflammation and bronciospams among other irritations. Infants and children are at particular risk due to their size

"Young children with asthma have long been regarded as a group who are very susceptible to adverse effects from air pollution because of their developing lungs, immature metabolic pathways, high ventilation rates per bodyweight, and increased time exercising outdoors," researchers wrote in a 2014 published study.

Insect-Born Diseases

Changing weather patterns mean changing territory for insects and other animals that can spread disease.

Shaman said it's still unclear exactly which species will be affected by a warmer climate but that they have already seen some disease-spreading insects change habitats.

"A good example might be Ades albopictius [mosquito]," Shaman said, explaining the insect can spread Dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika. "It's been adapting in way we haven't seen it before."

The insect has now been found in New York City and other areas further north than expected.


The WHO estimates that the earth's temperature may rise between 1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. This means longer hotter summers and increasing heatwaves.

In the U.S. Global Change Research Programs' Climate and Health Assessment, changing climate could mean an "increase of thousands to tens of thousands of premature heat-related deaths in the summer."