Our climate is changing. Temperatures are rising, arctic ice is melting, sea levels are rising and natural events such as hurricanes and winter storms are becoming more powerful. With all this, the risk increases of injury, illness, and death from the resulting heat waves, wildfires, precipitation, floods and other effects.
Climate change has already had observable effects on the environment -- the effects predicted by scientists are happening now: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise, longer, more intense heat waves and spread of disease, according to NASA.
How is it affecting you? This list is based on information compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists on the Climate Hot Map, which shows hot spots where scientists have gathered evidence for climate changes that are already underway and where they are now assessing the risks associated with further warming. GoCarbonNeutral.org is a site that offers tools and resources to become carbon neutral, and cites evidence in support of the impacts of climate hazards on humanity. We also included information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Above, firefighters take a breather from fighting a wildfire in Southern California.
These are some of the effects climate change is having on our health and safety.
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Extreme Heat. When high temperatures and high relative humidity persist for several days, and nighttime temperatures do not drop, more deaths can occur. Of all climate-related projections by scientists, rising temperatures are the most robust, according to the Climate Hot Map.
Natural Disasters. With these higher temperatures, more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere and becomes fuel for more powerful storms to develop, according to the USGS, and heat in the atmosphere and warmer ocean surface temperatures can lead to increased wind speeds in tropical storms and more precipitation. Pictured is Mexico Beach, Fla., in 2018, 16 days after Hurricane Michael.
Photo: Terry Kelly / Shutterstock
Flooding. A warming atmosphere also holds more moisture, so the chance of extreme rainfall and flooding continues to rise in some regions with rain or snow. Flooding is more extreme during storms. Above, Houston residents walk across a flooded street in the city after hurricane Harvey in 2017.
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Landslides. Storms and precipitation can lead to landslides. Above, a view of the mudslide that occurred in Oso, Wash., after heavy rains in 2014. Forty-three people were killed and 49 homes and other structures were destroyed
Photo: Spc. Matthew Sissel/Spc. Samantha Ciaramitaro
Sea Level Rise. As polar ice caps melt, sea levels rise, putting coastal communities at risk. About 40% of the nation's population -- over 126 million people -- are at risk from rising seas, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sea-level rise can lead to saltwater intrusion into groundwater drinking supplies, especially in low-lying, gently sloping coastal areas.
Above, a flooded road in Manhattan in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Photo: Kobby Dagan / Shutterstock
Water Contamination. With increased flooding from both storms and sea level rise, municipal sewer systems can overflow, causing untreated sewage to get into drinking water supplies.
Energy Infrastructure Damage. Storms also lead to problems to the energy infrastructure. According to media reports, hurricanes such as Harvey, Rita and Katrina resulted in a large number of oil and gas structures being shut down, damaged or destroyed, affecting supply, prices, and the economy.
Power Outages. Power outages during disasters also can cause problems for water treatment systems, further endangering the water supply.
People are also exposed to extreme cold and heat during power outages.
Food Poisoning. Power outages from storms and other disasters can cause food to spoil, leading to food poisoning and food safety issues. A refrigerator can keep food cold for four hours, beyond that, bacteria rapidly develops in perishable food.
Damage to Health Infrastructure. Massive flooding in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina put several hospitals out of commission, including Charity Hospital, above, which never reopened.
Wildfires. Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of many forests to wildfires and is also projected to increase the frequency of wildfires in certain regions of the U.S. In November 2018, a fire destroyed the town of Paradise, Calif., killing at least 86 people. The year before, fires in Northern California killed 22 people and burned thousands of homes. Pictured is a neighborhood in Santa Rosa, Calif. that burned in 2017.
Photo: California National Guard
Wildfire Smoke. The heavy smoke from these fires contains particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other volatile organic compounds. Smoke exposure increases respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations, emergency department visits, medication dispensations for asthma, bronchitis, chest pain and respiratory infections, according to the CDC. Above, smoke from the fire in Paradise, Calif. blanketed much of Northern California for days.
Poor Air Quality. Even without fires, as air temperatures increase, sunlight, warm air, and pollution from power plants and cars combine to produce smog in the air we breathe.
Allergies. Ragweed is thriving in the warmer climate. In some parts of the country the ragweed pollen season is lasting longer, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Ragweed produces even more pollen when CO2 increases. This double-whammy is causing more suffering for many people.
Crime: Some research cited by Go Carbon Neutral suggests that some violent crimes and some property crimes increase in hotter temperatures.
Migration and Evacuation. Climate change is likely to increase the number of people who are forced to leave their homes because of drought, flooding, or other climate-related disasters, whether permanently or temporarily. Hurricane Irma in 2017 in Florida led to the evacuation of millions of people. Above, thousands flee Houston before Hurricane Rita in 2005.
Photo: Ed Edahl/FEMA
Security Threats and Civil Unrest. The mass movements of people and social disruption may lead to civil unrest, and could even spur military intervention and other unintended consequences. Above, protesters take to the streets in Washington, D.C. in response to the Trump administration's ban on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries.
Photo: bakdc / Shutterstock
Mental Health and Stress Related Diseases- Mental illness is one of the major causes of suffering in the U.S., according to the CDC, and extreme weather events can affect mental health. Problems increase after natural disasters, both among people with no history of mental illness and those at risk. Research demonstrated high levels of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder among people affected by Hurricane Katrina, and similar observations have followed floods and heat waves and possibly widlfires, the CDC says. Above, a victim is evacuated in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Jay C. Pugh/US Navy
Addiction. Research cited by Go Carbon Neutral indicates increased substance abuse in warmer temperatures and in the aftermath of severe hurricanes and floods.
Other Health Consequences. Intensely stressful exposures may also lead to other health consequences, including pre-term birth, low birth weight, and maternal complications.
Food Insecurity. All of these climate changes threaten global food production of grains, vegetables, fruits, livestock, and fisheries. Coping is costly for farmers and, ultimately, consumers.
As food prices rise, food insecurity increases, and people turn to nutrient-poor but calorie-rich foods, or they go hungry. The consequences range from obesity to malnutrition. Above, nine days after Hurricane Irma battered Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2017, a Publix supermarket is unable to get poultry or meat supplies to stock the shelves.
Jillian Cain Photography / Shutterstock
Nutrition. The nutritional value of some foods is projected to decline, the CDC says. Elevated atmospheric CO2 is associated with decreased plant nitrogen concentration, and therefore decreased protein in many crops such as barley, sorghum, and soy. The nutrient content of crops is also projected to decline if soil nitrogen levels are suboptimal, with reduced levels of nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins, and sugars.
Increased Herbicides and Pesticides. Farmers are expected to need to use more herbicides and pesticides because of increased growth of pests and weeds, and as the chemicals become less effective, the CDC says. More people will be exposed to toxic substances.
Algae Blooms. The rapid growth of algae can cause harm to animals, people, and the local ecology. These algae blooms may look like scum on the water and can produce toxins that can cause a variety of illnesses in people and animals. In August 2019, three dogs died from toxic algae within hours of swimming in a North Carolina pond, CNN reported. The algae blooms can occur in warm fresh, marine, or brackish waters with abundant nutrients and are becoming more frequent with climate change, according to the CDC.
Disease: Insects known for carrying disease, such as mosquitoes, are stopped by cold winters, but now are moving into higher latitudes from areas like the equator toward North America.
Drought. In some parts of the country, extreme drought exacerbates forest fires, leads to decreased food yields, and can harm the water supply. As stream and river flows decline, water levels in lakes and reservoirs fall, and the depth to water in wells increases, resulting in decreased water availability and deterioration of groundwater quality, according to the USGS.
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey
Loss of Snowpack. Loss of mountain snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt spurred by higher temperatures reduces the availability of drinking water downstream. The shrinking of mountain glaciers threatens drinking water supplies for millions of people.
Risks to Fisheries. Shifts in the abundance and types of fish and other seafood may hurt commercial fisheries, while warmer waters may pose threats to human consumption of fish, such as increasing the risk of infectious diseases. Warmer waters can lead to severe cholera outbreaks and harmful bacteria in certain types of seafood and fish.
Extreme Winter Storms. How could global warming lead to Snowmageddon? Some recent research has shown that increasing surface temperatures and reductions in Arctic sea ice may produce atmospheric circulation patterns that are favorable for winter storm development in the eastern U.S, according to NOAA. Years with heavy seasonal snow and extreme snowstorms continue to occur in the eastern U.S. with greater frequency as the climate has changed, NOAA says.
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