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Human Health

Climate change is the most significant health threat facing humanity today, actively jeopardizing half a century in global health progress, economic development, and poverty reduction1. Already, 85 percent of the world's population has been exposed to some form of adverse health consequence from climate change2. Keeping the average global temperature rise to below 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) compared to preindustrial levels by 2050 would prevent millions of climate change-related deaths1. Thanks to climate change, a child born in 2020 will experience 2 to 36 times as many extreme weather events as someone born in 19603. These health risks are not uniform across the planet. Depending on the region, people face a multitude of existing and emergent health stressors and diseases connected to climate change.

In Texas, warmer average temperatures are projected to elevate summer heat stress, and days over 100 °F will likely double in the next two decades and triple or quadruple by the end of the century, leading to a rise in heat-related mortality4,5. Hotter temperatures will probably increase the formation of near-surface ozone and smog, and more severe drought increases airborne dust particulates, both of which negatively impact cardiovascular and respiratory health6,7.

Higher temperatures correlate with higher evaporation rates at the surface and lower recharge rates to aquifers, which threaten water supplies and lowers both the sources and overall quality of water for both humans and animals8. Less access to water heightens the risk of supply contamination and the spread of waterborne diseases7,9. Crop yields and quality are expected to decline worldwide and in Texas, threatening food security10,11. Rising average temperatures have allowed the spread of malaria and dengue fever into southeastern Texas. Fewer frost days expanded the infection range for these mosquito-borne illnesses and are projected to continue growing7,12,13.

Texans' exposure to dangerous extreme weather events like floods and wildfires is projected to continue rising through the end of the century5,14. The Texas electrical grid and other critical infrastructure are under pressure from these events15,16,17. Studies looking at both moderate and severe scenarios for future greenhouse gas emissions suggest that the United States may experience a massive population migration in the coming decades18,19. Climate refugees will move away from areas most vulnerable to adverse climate change effects, including many cities in Texas, to places with cooler temperatures, more access to resources, and less life-threatening extreme weather events18,20. These health risks are significantly magnified for socioeconomically vulnerable and marginalized communities, who bear the brunt of these climate consequences while lacking the economic and social support to avoid and recover from them14,21,22

Altogether, the projected increases in extreme weather event severity and frequency, combined with greater exposure and vulnerability to the effects of climate change, pose a significant and credible threat to the health of all Texans. These factors are expected to lead to significant economic burdens for the state and large-scale climate migrations, supporting the need for comprehensive adaptation and response plans at both local and federal scales. Explore the graphics and resources below to learn more about how health and climate change intersect in Texas. 

Climate effects on health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Climate change and health (World Health Organization)

Climate change and human health (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)

Risky Business focuses on producing assessments on climate change-related risks to the US economy, both by state and nationally. Texas' report is ideal for understanding how climate impacts affect the state's economy and presents strategies for business stakeholders and policy planners. 

National Center for Environmental Health: A collection of datasets related to preventing illness, disability, and death from interactions between humans and the environment (including climate change) in the United States. 

New Climate Maps Show a Transofrmed United States (Pro Publica)

Image Gallery

References

  1. IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A.  Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 32 pp.
  2. Callaghan, M., C.-F. Schleussner, S. Nath, Q. Lejeune, T. R. Knutson, M. Reichstein, G. Hansen, E. Theokritoff, and others 2021. Machine-learning-based evidence and attribution mapping of 100,000 climate impact studies. Nature Climate Change 11. Nature Publishing Group: 966–972.
  3. Thiery, W., S. Lange, J. Rogelj, C.-F. Schleussner, L. Gudmundsson, S. I. Seneviratne, M. Andrijevic, K. Frieler, and others 2021. Intergenerational inequities in exposure to climate extremes. Science 374. American Association for the Advancement of Science: 158–160.
  4. Wuebbles, D. J., D. W. Fahey, and K. A. Hibbard. 2017. Climate science special report: fourth national climate assessment, volume I.
  5. Nielsen-Gammon, J., S. Holman, A. Buley, S. Jorgensen, J. Escobedo, C. Ott, J. Dedrick, and A. Van Fleet. 2021. Assessment of Historic and Future Trends of Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900-2036. OSC-202101. Texas A&M University.
  6. Dennis, A., M. Fraser, S. Anderson, and D. Allen. 2002. Air pollutant emissions associated with forest, grassland, and agricultural burning in Texas. Atmospheric Environment 36. Elsevier: 3779–3792.
  7. Kloesel, K., B. Bartush, J. Banner, D. Brown, J. Lemery, X. Lin, C. Loeffler, G. McManus, and others 2018. Chapter 23: Southern great plains. Impacts, risks, and adaptation in the United States: The fourth national climate assessment, volume II. U.S. Global Change Research Program.
  8. Nielsen-Gammon, J. W., J. L. Banner, B. I. Cook, D. M. Tremaine, C. I. Wong, R. E. Mace, H. Gao, Z.-L. Yang, and others 2020. Unprecedented drought challenges for Texas water resources in a changing climate: what do researchers and stakeholders need to know? Earth’s Future 8. Wiley Online Library: e2020EF001552.
  9. Rose, J. B., P. R. Epstein, E. K. Lipp, B. H. Sherman, S. M. Bernard, and J. A. Patz. 2001. Climate variability and change in the United States: potential impacts on water-and foodborne diseases caused by microbiologic agents. Environmental health perspectives 109: 211–221.
  10. Myers, S. S., A. Zanobetti, I. Kloog, P. Huybers, A. D. Leakey, A. J. Bloom, E. Carlisle, L. H. Dietterich, and others 2014. Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition. Nature 510. Nature Publishing Group: 139–142.
  11. Myers, S. S., M. R. Smith, S. Guth, C. D. Golden, B. Vaitla, N. D. Mueller, A. D. Dangour, and P. Huybers. 2017. Climate change and global food systems: potential impacts on food security and undernutrition. Annual review of public health 38. Annual Reviews: 259–277.
  12. Thomas, D. L., G. A. Santiago, R. Abeyta, S. Hinojosa, B. Torres-Velasquez, J. K. Adam, N. Evert, E. Caraballo, and others 2016. Reemergence of dengue in southern Texas, 2013. Emerging Infectious Diseases 22. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 1002.
  13. Butterworth, M. K., C. W. Morin, and A. C. Comrie. 2017. An analysis of the potential impact of climate change on dengue transmission in the southeastern United States. Environmental health perspectives 125. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: 579–585.
  14. Wing, O. E., W. Lehman, P. D. Bates, C. C. Sampson, N. Quinn, A. M. Smith, J. C. Neal, J. R. Porter, and others 2022. Inequitable patterns of US flood risk in the Anthropocene. Nature Climate Change. Nature Publishing Group: 1–7.
  15. Busby, J. W., K. Baker, M. D. Bazilian, A. Q. Gilbert, E. Grubert, V. Rai, J. D. Rhodes, S. Shidore, and others 2021. Cascading risks: Understanding the 2021 winter blackout in Texas. Energy Research & Social Science 77. Elsevier: 102106.
  16. Glazer, Y. R., D. M. Tremaine, J. L. Banner, M. Cook, R. E. Mace, J. Nielsen-Gammon, E. Grubert, K. Kramer, and others 2021. Winter Storm Uri: A Test of Texas’ Water Infrastructure and Water Resource Resilience to Extreme Winter Weather Events. Journal of Extreme Events. World Scientific: 2150022.
  17. Gearino, D. 2022. One Year Later: The Texas Freeze Revealed a Fragile Energy System and Inspired Lasting Misinformation. Inside Climate News.
  18. Fan, Q., K. Fisher-Vanden, and H. A. Klaiber. 2018. Climate change, migration, and regional economic impacts in the United States. Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists 5. University of Chicago Press Chicago, IL: 643–671.
  19. Shaw, A., A. Lustgarten, ProPublica, J. W. Goldsmith, S. to ProPublica, September 15, and 2020. 2020. New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States. ProPublica. September 15.
  20. Xu, C., T. A. Kohler, T. M. Lenton, J.-C. Svenning, and M. Scheffer. 2020. Future of the human climate niche. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117. National Acad Sciences: 11350–11355.
  21. Hardy, R. D., R. A. Milligan, and N. Heynen. 2017. Racial coastal formation: The environmental injustice of colorblind adaptation planning for sea-level rise. Geoforum 87. Elsevier: 62–72.
  22. Wilson, B. 2020. Urban heat management and the legacy of redlining. Journal of the American Planning Association 86. Taylor & Francis: 443–457.