Climate change and health: How vulnerable is your city?

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As temperatures rise, so could the threats to your health.

Climate experts predict average temperatures in California could rise between 4.7 to 10.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, potentially worsening illnesses related to extreme heat and air pollution, according to Natural Resources Defense Council, which released web-based climate change impact maps Wednesday.

The maps forecast the average number of days likely to spread infectious diseases, such as dengue fever, and when people might suffer from extreme heat, unhealthful air pollution, as well as flooding and droughts. Residents may also use the site to find out more about their city’s strategy to prepare for the effects of climate change and tips to mitigate the effects of unhealthy days.

“Climate change is one of the most serious public health threats in the 21st century,” said Kim Knowlton, NRDC senior scientist. Knowlton said warmer weather can exacerbate smog and ragweed pollen, threatening those suffering from allergies, respiratory problems and asthma.

“We need to start connecting the dots between climate change and our health,” Knowlton said. “It’s time we make it a personal, national priority.”


The number of unhealthful days in Los Angeles is expected to increase. By the end of the century, the city could experience up to 100 additional days each year with temperatures above 90 degrees. Sacramento could have 100 more above 95 degrees, according to the NRDC. More hot days can cause heat-related deaths and aggravate respiratory illnesses. Los Angeles has smog and ragweed pollen problems and is at risk for at least one unhealthy air quality day per summer, meaning the air does not meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for ground-level ozone. Smog intermixed with pollen poses a dual threat to the health of people with allergies and asthma.

California’s strategy to prepare for worsened air quality includes measures to identify, track and address climate related vulnerabilities, according to NRDC.

The data used in creating the map came from NRDC’s 2007 report, ‘Sneezing and Wheezing: How Global Warming Could Increase Ragweed Allergies, Air Pollution, and Asthma,’ which studied infectious diseases, extreme heat and unhealthy air pollution across the country from 2002 to 2006.


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-- Ashlie Rodriguez

Imagess: National Resources Defense Council