Skip to Content
Environmental Epidemiology

Global Climate Change and Public Health

Impact on Health

Potential Impacts on Human Health

The activities of humans release pollutants into the Earth’s atmosphere.  Some of these pollutants are greenhouse gases that can trap the Sun’s energy.  The result has been global warming.  The result of global warming has been global climate change.  

Increased global temperature, rising sea levels, and precipitation changes, with more extremes in weather, are expected to have ill effects on public health.  Increased morbidity, mortality, and displacement are expected due to global climate change.  The following framework shows the potential impacts of global climate change on human health.

Potential Impacts of Global Climate Change on Human Health

Changes in global climate are expected to adversely affect communities worldwide.  Storms will be more intense and flooding more common.  Higher temperatures will lead to heat-related illnesses.  Changes in rainfall amounts will lead to disruptions in the global food supply.  Organisms that transmit viruses and other pathogens will be able to infect people in larger geographic ranges.  Air pollution will trigger more respiratory diseases.  Altering the basic human needs of food, clean water, clean air, and shelter is likely to result in civil conflict. 

Sadly, these changes are expected to have disproportionate effects on people.  People without access to health care will likely suffer more.  People who are very young or very old are usually less able to cope with sudden changes.  People and nations without wealth will be less able to respond to rapidly changing living conditions.

World Population

World Population Estimate

Worldwide population has grown rapidly in only a few generations time.  The increased world population has strained our planet’s natural resources.  As the world population has increased, so has the amount of greenhouse gases.

World Population Estimate


















Public Health Response

An effective public health response to climate change can prevent injuries, illnesses, and death while enhancing overall public health preparedness.  Protecting Americans from adverse health effects of climate change directly correlates with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s four overarching Health Protection Goals of: Healthy People in Every Stage of Life, Healthy People in Healthy Places, People Prepared for Emerging Health Threats, and Healthy People in a Healthy World.

Public Health programs provide a solid foundation for action and policy.  Many of the activities needed to protect Americans from adverse health effects due to climate change are mutually beneficial for overall public health.  Human health and the environment are connected.  What is generally good for the environment is good for human health.

Tennessee Department of Health former Commissioner, Susan R. Cooper, testified before the United States Senate Environmental Public Works Committee.  Representing the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), she spoke about the human impacts of climate change.  Click here to read the statement.

Make a Difference

You can make a difference

Climate change is a global issue.  It might be hard to believe that you can have an affect on a global issue, but you can.  Whether your affect on climate change is positive or negative is up to you.  There are many simple things you can do in your daily life to help keep our planet healthy.  See below for actions you can do to green your home or workplace.  Also available are slideshows for making changes at home and at work.  Our positive actions make a difference. 

Actions You Can Take at Home

Energy Star LogoBuy Energy Star qualified appliances and products

  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with Energy Star qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
  • Buy appliances, such as refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters, dishwashers, and washing machines, that are Energy Star qualified

WaterSense Promo LogoConserve water

  • Buy plumbing fixtures, such as faucets and toilets, that are WaterSense qualified 
  • Turn off the water when shaving or brushing your teeth
  • Fix leaky faucets and toilets
  • Landscape so that rainwater is absorbed into your yard instead of running off into the street
  • Only run the dishwasher when it is full

TVA LogoFuelEfficiency Logo
Bio Diesel Logo
Use green power from your electric company

Be fuel efficient

  • Use renewable fuels
  • Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle
  • Combine neighborhood errands; bicycle or walk whenever possible   

EERE LogoMake your home energy efficient

  • Seal and caulk around windows and doors; insulate your attic and crawlspace
  • Replace old windows with Energy Star qualified windows
  • Plant natives trees for shade

Be green in your yard

  • Compost food and yard wastes
  • Use gasoline-powered equipment during cooler parts of the day

Recycle LogoReduce, reuse, and recycle

  • Reuse products whenever possible
  • Recycle newspapers, beverage containers, paper
  • Buy products in containers that can be recycled

Action Steps to have an Environmental Friendly Workplace

Energy Star Logo

Flip the Switch 

  • Turn off equipment when it's not being used. This can reduce the energy used by 25 percent; turning off the computers at the end of the day can save an additional 50 percent.

Reduce Paper Waste

  • Reduce fax-related paper waste by using a fax-modem and by using a fax cover sheet only when necessary. Fax-modems allow documents to be sent directly from a computer, without requiring a printed hard copy.
  • Produce double-sided documents whenever possible
  • Encourage communications by email, and read email messages onscreen to determine whether it's necessary to print them. If it's not, don't
  • Don't just toss out paper after you've used it. See if you can turn the paper over and use the back. If this doesn't create confusion, you'll cut down on paper cost as well as help save a tree.

Improve Indoor Air Quality

  • Get some small indoor plants.  If you’re lucky enough to have an office with a window, most any plant should do ok.  However, if you don’t have a window, make sure you do a little bit of research and check out which plants can survive in your office without lots of direct sunlight.
  • Stop cleaning your computer with canned air. Or find a brand without chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which destroy the ozone layer. Use a mini vacuum cleaner instead.

Recycle LogoReduce, Reuse, Recycle

  • Recycle everything you can: toner cartridges, waste paper, cardboard boxes, batteries, etc. It doesn't cost anything.
  • Instruct your shipping department to re-use boxes and wrappings. This can cut costs, as well as help reduce the amount of non-biodegradable trash stored in landfills (styrofoam popcorn, plastic bubblewrap, etc).

Reduce Needless Trash

  • Bring in a coffee mug. Instead of getting a new styrofoam or disposable cup each day, bring in a regular coffee mug from home and just wash it out at the end of each day.  This is a great and simple way to reduce needless trash.