What is climate change?
Climate change is a long-term shift in climate measures, such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate change is sometimes called global warming, which refers specifically to an increase in the earth’s temperature. This warming in turn causes changes in climate.
The global climate is currently changing and becoming warmer. Some climate change is normal for the earth. But scientists also believe human activities are releasing pollution that traps heat in the atmosphere, causing a “greenhouse effect” that is warming the earth. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas. Other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are factory-made chemical compounds that are being used as ozone-safe replacements for chlorofluorocarbons. Emissions of HFCs and other fluorinated gases represent approximately three percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
Human activities that release greenhouse gases include burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, propane, diesel fuel, natural gas, and gasoline. Other activities include electricity generation, industrial processes, agriculture, and forestry.
Climate change can cause changes in rainfall, reduced snow and ice cover, extreme weather events such as floods and hurricanes, sea level rise, and increased temperatures, which in turn may cause heat waves and drought. These changes could affect human health, air quality, agriculture and food supplies, forests, ecosystems, coastal areas, water resources, and heating and cooling needs.
Extreme warm or cold temperatures caused by climate change may aggravate several chronic diseases, including heart and respiratory disease. Extremely high temperatures can cause heat stroke. Stagnant weather conditions may cause increased ozone and smog. Climate change may cause wildfires and dust from dry soils, increasing particulate matter pollution in the air. Sea level rise may increase the risk from extreme weather events such as flooding in coastal areas. Changing ecosystems may result in higher pollen production, worsening allergic and respiratory disease. Climate change could increase climate-sensitive and water-borne diseases. Lack of food due to changing agricultural patterns may increase risk of malnutrition. As temperatures increase, algae blooms could occur more frequently. Weather conditions could also favor mosquito populations and increase the spread of malaria.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Arctic Health: Climate Change (National Library of Medicine)
Climate and Health Program: Health Effects (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Climate Change - Human Health Impacts and Adaptation (Environmental Protection Agency)
Climate Change and Health (National Environmental Education Foundation) (PDF — 50 KB)
Climate Change and Health (World Health Organization)
Climate Change and Human Health. Enviro-Health Links (National Library of Medicine)
Climate Change. Environmental Health Student Portal (National Library of Medicine)
Create a New Climate for Action (Environmental Protection Agency)
Droughts and Health (National Library of Medicine)
Glossary of Climate Change Terms (Environmental Protection Agency)
Health Impacts of Climate Extremes (World Health Organization) (PDF — 70 KB)
Taking Our Temperature. Ecohealth (University of Wisconsin)
Transportation, Climate Change and Public Health (American Public Health Association)
Chemicals and Climate
Are these chemicals in MY community?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Last Updated: December 17, 2014