Climate change will significantly impact public health in California for decades to come. In order to prevent these public health impacts, we can take actions to prevent climate change- also known as mitigation. At the same time, we can prepare for climate change by adjusting to its impacts- a process known as adaptation. In order to do either activity, it is important to understand what is causing climate change, who is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and what we can do to prepare.
What is climate change?
Climate change is the significant and lasting change of our weather over sustained periods of time. There is international consensus that human activities over the last 50 years have altered the Earth's natural climate. Excess production of greenhouse gases and changes to our natural ecosystems (such as deforestation) are contributing to global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that:
- Ecological changes due to global warming "are likely to affect the health status of millions of people"
- People with less ability to respond to the environmental and public health impacts of climate change will be most impacted
- It is "virtually certain" that there will be warmer and more frequent hot days and nights
- It is "very likely" that the frequency of heat waves will increase over most land masses
As a result, climate change is expected to increase disease burden throughout California.
Who is vulnerable to climate change?
Everyone will be impacted by climate change. Climate change will have a disproportionate effect on those who already suffer from poor health in California, especially:
- low-income communities
- communities of color
- individuals with respiratory disease
- the very young
- the elderly
For more information, view the CDPH Climate Change and Public Health Webinar Series: Understanding the Public Health Impacts of Climate Change in California's Vulnerable Populations.
How can we prevent climate change?
Climate change mitigation is the act of decreasing the factors that contribute to climate change. One of the most significant contributors to climate change is the rise in greenhouse gases. The United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change defines climate change mitigation as "a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases."
California recently passed Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which mandates the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 in California.
Other mitigation strategies include:
- Improving the energy efficiency of buildings to reduce emissions from heating/cooling
- Planting forests and tree to remove excess carbon dioxide from our atmosphere
- Reducing fuel emissions associated with motor vehicles
Mitigation strategies like these can substantially reduce greenhouse gases and lessen the impacts of climate change. However, climate change mitigation strategies serve the a dual purpose of directly benefiting the health of our communities by producing health co-benefits. Co-benefits are additional health benefits that may result from policies or solutions that are intended to prevent climate change. For example, improving public transportation will lower greenhouse gas emissions, but it can also greatly benefit public health by decreasing air pollution, reducing motor vehicle accidents, and improving physical activity.
How can we prepare for climate change?
Even if mitigation strategies are successful at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the future, our climate will still continue to change. Therefore, our communities must also adapt to climate change now in order to reduce the negative health effects of climate change later. The World Health Organizations definition of climate change adaptation is the "adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities."
Adaptation strategies directly address a community's vulnerability to climate change by reducing the negative impact of climate change on community health. Because some climate change is unavoidable, adaptation strategies are crucial for keeping climate change related diseases, injuries, disabilities, and deaths to a minimum.
Climate action plans and emergency preparedness
There are many climate action plans and emergency preparedness activities already underway in California at the state and local level. Below is a list of websites where you can receive up to date information on climate change related activities in California.
- State of California Extreme Heat Adaptation Interim Guidance Document
- Cal EMA Heat Contingency Plan
- California Department of Public Health Climate Change and Public Health
- California Department of Public Health Climate Action for Health: Integrating Public Health into Climate Action Planning
- Governor's Office of Planning and Research California Cities and Counties Addressing Climate Change
- EPA State and Local Climate and Energy Program