This year, an estimated five million people worldwide will die from climate change. On its own, this statistic would seem unbelievable, even absurd, to most. However, if one considers even a fraction of the direct and indirect consequences of a hotter planet—air pollution, reduced food production, the spread of diarrheal diseases—it becomes apparent that climate change is not an imperceptible environmental process, but a bona fide public health crisis in the making. In the US alone, warmer climates are contributing to the northward spread of ragweed and ticks, driving up rates of pollen-induced asthma and vector-borne diseases. Rising temperatures weigh upon vulnerable populations such as the elderly and impoverished, who have suffered disproportionate increases in heat-related hospitalizations and deaths.
These issues are only the tip of the iceberg; the 2018 National Climate Assessment, commissioned by the US Global Change Research Program, revealed that climate change will negatively impact water quality, mental health, and even the nutritional content of many foods. The US health care system is already bearing the human cost of environmental change, and sooner, rather than later, it must take proactive measures to deal with this growing crisis.Health Affairs