People often refer to climate change as an “existential threat.” This makes sense; our existence is being threatened. But as a health professional, I’d like to move away from the big, existential side of things and focus on the everyday public and individual human health threats that climate change is already causing and that most certainly will continue to worsen.
I’d like you to think like a nurse for a moment. When you seek care from a health professional, we often ask you to fill out a form requesting information about whether you suffer from a long list of possible diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and so on. When treating you, we also look at conditions that challenge large swaths of people’s health, such as poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. We also look at population-based vulnerabilities like being pregnant, a newborn, a person with a physical or cognitive disability, or an elderly person. These conditions and vulnerabilities don’t happen as one-offs but instead are often co-occurring: for example, you might be an elderly, low-income person who has a mobility issue and a history of diabetes.
Now, overlay the predicted ravages of climate change, such as extreme heat, extreme weather events, bad air that is worsened by climate-related fire and smoke, and predicted food shortages, over those conditions. When overlaid, they can have a multiplier effect on many existing human conditions, medical or otherwise. . .
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