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Climate Change and Public Health: Facts You Should Know

Public health professionals can play a crucial role in safeguarding communities from the effects of climate change.

Amid growing threats from rising seas and extreme temperatures, U.S. and global organizations are urging governments to take immediate action to address climate change, “a true public health emergency.”1

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is one of more than 70 organizations—composed of public health professionals, nurses, physicians, and community health workers—that signed the 2019 “U.S. Call to Action on Climate, Health, and Equity: A Policy Action Agenda.” APHA executive director Georges Benjamin said, “We’re committed to making sure the nation knows about the effects of climate change on health. If anyone doesn’t think this is a severe problem, they are fooling themselves.”2

Climate Change and Public Health: Facts You Should Know

Understanding the Scope

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a central figure in assessing the health risks of climate change. It also works to raise awareness and partners with countries to protect citizen health. As part of its efforts, WHO developed this overview of the impact of climate change on public health:3

  • Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health: clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter.
  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress.
  • The direct damage costs to health (excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture, water, and sanitation) are estimated to be between $2 to $4 billion a year by 2030.
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure—mostly in developing countries—will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.
  • Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food, and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.

Assessing the Risks

Experts say there are many factors and ways climate affects our health. According to WHO, these include:3

  • Heat: “Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. High temperatures also raise the levels of ozone and other pollutants in the air that exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Pollen and other aeroallergen levels are also higher in extreme heat. These can trigger asthma, which affects around 300 million people. Ongoing temperature increases are expected to increase this burden.”
  • Natural disasters: “Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, medical facilities, and other essential services. More than half of the world’s population lives within 60 km of the sea. People may be forced to move, which in turn heightens the risk of a range of health effects, from mental disorders to communicable diseases.”
  • Rainfall: “Increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrheal disease. … In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine. … Floods are also increasing in frequency and intensity. Floods contaminate freshwater supplies, heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes.”
  • Infection: “Climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails, or other cold-blooded animals. Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range. Malaria is strongly influenced by climate. … The Aedes mosquito vector of dengue is also highly sensitive to climate conditions, and studies suggest that climate change is likely to continue to increase exposure to dengue.”

Building a Healthier Future

Public health professionals play a critical role in addressing the threats associated with climate change. While healthcare workers provide treatment, public health professionals concentrate on prevention, detection, and management, the APHA says.

“Public health professionals work to understand and educate the public on the health consequences of climate change; help communities prepare for climate events by providing heat wave warnings, air quality index alerts, water safety testing, mosquito control programs, storm warnings, and more; and coordinate detection, tracking and management of public health emergencies.”4

Climate-related projects for community health workers or public health professionals might range from helping communities implement climate adaptation plans to planning and leading informational sessions on the safe use of insect repellent.4

Public Health Graduate Programs

Earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) online from Walden University can give you the knowledge you need to help build healthier communities. Walden’s MPH program is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools of public health and programs of public health. CEPH accreditation provides assurance that the program has been evaluated and has met accepted public health profession standards in practice, research, and service.

When you choose Walden for your online master of public health degree, you’ll benefit from:

  • A solid grounding in foundational public health knowledge.
  • A global perspective on public health, enriched by the experiences of students from all over the world.
  • Interactive and enhanced media that allow students to simulate real-world public health issues and solutions.
  • A cutting-edge online environment and curriculum featuring case studies on the latest public health issues.
  • A field experience designed to help you make an immediate impact on your career and your community.

By earning an MPH degree online, you can fit your studies into your schedule and apply what you’re learning in your current position. And a Master of Public Health can open doors to new roles, including community health worker, public health policy coordinator, disease investigator, public health analyst, and emergency preparedness and response coordinator.

A degree from one of the best MPH programs can arm you with strategies to face the challenges of climate change, called “one of the greatest threats to health America has ever faced.”1 You can make your mark by building healthier communities—and a healthier world.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering public health graduate programs including the Master of Public Health (MPH). Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,