Climate Change and Health
Climate change will increase the number of bad air days across much of the United States.a This puts millions of Americans at risk for irritated eyes, noses, and lungs, but it’s particularly dangerous for young children, older adults, people who work or exercise outside, and our country’s more than 24 million asthma sufferers.b
Explore the map to see which parts of the country are most affected by unhealthy air, or check out your area by clicking on a state, or click on the magnifying glass to type in your address.
* Ragweed presence: 2016; average annual ozone exceedance days: 2011–2015; estimates of asthma prevalence: 2011 (children) and 2014 (adults); population: 2015 census.
Our analysis shows that the health of nearly 127 million Americans is threatened by both smog pollution and ragweed pollen, which can worsen respiratory allergies and asthma. Smog forms when pollution from power plants, vehicles, and other sources reacts to form ground-level ozone, the main ingredient of smog.f Increasing temperatures and sunlight can speed up this process and result in more smog.g Warmer and drier fall weather may also extend the summer smog season into fall in some parts of the country.h
As carbon dioxide levels rise—enhancing the growth of ragweed and other pollen-producing plants—and warm seasons get longer, we will also see higher pollen concentrations being produced over a longer period each year.i
The double whammy of more smog and more pollen contributes to more missed school and work days, more trips to the doctor, higher medical costs, and a rise in the number of premature deaths each year.j But we aren’t doomed to this fate. We can clean up our air and avoid the health threats of climate change by:
- Calling on companies and decision makers at all levels of government to help reduce smog-forming pollution and carbon pollution from power plants, vehicles, and other sources.
- Demanding that our federal, state, and local governments prepare for the health threats of climate change. Today, fewer than one-third of U.S. states have developed a plan to address the health impacts of climate change.
- Learning how to protect ourselves on bad air days.
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a. U.S. Global Change Research Program, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment, chapter 3, “Air Quality Impacts,” https://health2016.globalchange.gov/air-quality-impacts, 2016 (accessed May 1, 2017).
b. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Most Recent Asthma Data,” www.cdc.gov/asthma/most_recent_data.htm, 2017 (accessed May 1, 2017).
c. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Pre-Generated Data Files: Annual Summary Data,” http://aqsdr1.epa.gov/aqsweb/aqstmp/airdata/download_files.html#Annual (accessed May 1, 2017).
d. Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System (EDD MapS), “Common Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.,” https://www.eddmaps.org/distribution/uscounty.cfm?sub=5076&map=distribution, 2017 (accessed May 1, 2017).
e. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, “2015 Asthma Capitals,” http://www.aafa.org/page/asthma-capitals.aspx, 2015 (accessed May 1, 2017).
f. U.S. Global Change Research Program, The Impacts of Climate Change, chapter 3.
h. Zhang, Y., and Wang, Y., “Climate-Driven Ground-Level Ozone Extreme in the Fall Over the Southeast United States,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 36 (2016), www.pnas.org/content/113/36/10025.abstract (accessed May 1, 2017).
i. U.S. Global Change Research Program, The Impacts of Climate Change, chapter 3.