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Climate Change


Climate is the average weather in a region over time. Climate change refers to major, long-term changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns. Natural factors or human activities may cause climate change and impact the environment,

Human activities may contribute to global warming, a factor in climate change. Global warming is caused by releasing high levels of heat-trapping pollutants, called greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases

Carbon dioxide emissions make up about 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons. Burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, propane, diesel fuel, natural gas, and gasoline produces greenhouse gases. Electricity generation, industrial processes, agriculture, and forestry may also release greenhouse gases.

Climate effects on health

Climate change can cause changes in rainfall; reduced snow and ice cover; extreme weather events such as floods, wildfires, blizzards, and hurricanes; sea level rise; and increased temperatures, which in turn may cause heat waves and drought. These changes can affect our health. They can lead to:

  • More heat-related illness and deaths. 
  • More pollen, mold, and air pollution, which can cause an increase in allergies, asthma, and breathing problems. 
  • Increased ozone and smog, also aggravating respiratory conditions.
  • More mosquitoes and other insects that carry diseases.
  • More floods and rising sea levels, which can cause an increase in contaminated food and water.
  • More extreme weather events, which can cause death, injuries, stress, and mental health problems.

Some regions around the world are at particular risk for climate effects on health, including:

  • Regions with high rates of climate-sensitive diseases like malaria
  • Coastal areas at risk of flooding
  • Areas with little capacity to adapt due to social and economic factors

Slowing and adapting to climate change

Choices you make in day-to-day life can help slow climate change. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Be energy efficient
  • Drive and fly less
  • Eat less meat and dairy, eat local foods
  • Use renewable power, such as wind and solar 
  • Recycle
  • Plant trees

Some changes due to climate change cannot be avoided. Adaptation helps communities deal with those consequences. Communities may adapt by planting more drought-resistant crops or protecting coastal areas from rising sea level with infrastructure.

Additional Resources

  • Climate and Human Health
    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
    A 2010 report addressing the health impacts of climate change, including major research areas to be explored, such as respiratory allergies and airway diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, food and waterborne illnesses, and neurological and weather-related diseases, from a federal institute that investigates the interplay between environmental exposures, human biology, genetics, and common diseases to help prevent disease and improve human health.
  • How Climate Change Impacts Health
    American Public Health Association
    Information on how climate change impacts human health, and advocacy efforts to advance health equity.
  • Climate Change and Health
    World Health Organization
    A factsheet on how climate change's impacts, which include extreme heat, natural disasters, and variable rainfall patterns, adversely affect health, as well as information on populations at risk for these effects, and the response from the World Health Organization.
  • Toxicological Threats of Plastic
    Environmental Protection Agency
    Information on hazardous plastic pollution in the marine environment and the dangers of microplastics in water.

Science Classroom (Grades 6-8)

Enhance your education on toxic chemicals in our environment using lesson plans, games and activities, videos, informational websites, and more.

A Way Forward: Facing Climate Change
National Geographic
An eight-minute video about  the global impacts of climate change. 
Climate Change Education Curriculum
Stanford University School of Earth, Energy, & Environmental Sciences
Middle and high school curricula on climate change, and its impact on people and resources.
Climate Change and Human Health
PBS LearningMedia
Interactive activities that educate students on how human health is impacted by climate change.
Climate Kids
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jet Propulsion Laboratory
An interactive climate science website geared to elementary school students. 
Climate Resources
National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Fact sheets that answer frequently asked questions about how human activities contribute to climate change, and address observed changes in atmosphere, sea level, and temperature.
Cool School Challenge
National Wildlife Federation
An online competition that engages students and teachers in practical strategies to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Getting a Handle on Greenhouse Gases
Pima County, Arizona
An activity in which students measure their family's production of greenhouse gases, and determine how they can reduce their use of fossil fuels.
Greenhouse Effect
HHMI BioInteractive
A two-minute animated video that provides an overview of the greenhouse effect. 
Keeping an Eye on Our Changing Planet
Information about climate change from a public learning laboratory that promotes engagement with science and the natural world.
Lesson Plan: Global Warming
PBS LearningMedia
A high school lesson plan about global warming that includes student research and a student project.
What's the difference between global warming and climate change?
Information, scientific data, and resources about climate change and global warming.
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