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Taking the Temperature: What's the Link Between Climate Change and Health?

Abt Global researchers calculated that climate change, if unaddressed, has the potential to cause thousands of additional deaths in the U.S. each year by the end of this century.

The health of our planet and the health of people are inextricably linked. Climate change respects no boundaries, increasing potential risks to human health in a multitude of ways. For example:

  • Increases in the frequency and severity of heat waves increase risk of death and disease (e.g., heat stroke and cardiovascular conditions).
  • Increases in extreme precipitation increase flooding risks and have the potential to degrade water quality.
  • Worsening air quality would increase respiratory impacts, such as asthma attacks.

Addressing this challenge requires taking innovative approaches to examine links and relationships between climate stressors and human health. Abt is at the forefront of that effort, taking a holistic view of the issue and connecting the dots in a number of ways.


Assessing Human Health Risk and Impacts of Climate Change in the U.S.

"Climate change is a global problem. What we have is a global perspective."

Anna Belova

Abt researchers were part of a recent groundbreaking assessment on the potential future health impacts of climate change. The report, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment,” is part of the ongoing National Climate Assessment process required by the President’s Climate Action Plan. An Abt researcher team led by David Mills and Alexis St. Juliana contributed to the report’s findings on temperature-related death and illness. Based on new research from Abt for the project, the chapter concluded that, without additional adaptation to climate change, we could see thousands of additional deaths per year attributable to changing temperatures in the U.S. by the end of the century.

“Unfortunately, there is the potential for a significant toll in terms of human health when it comes to climate change,” says David Mills, a lead author on the chapter about temperature-related deaths and illnesses. “While progress has been made over time, there remains a significant need for public education and recognition of climate change as a public health issue in order to develop and implement the types of proven responses that could help avoid many of these impacts.”

Info graphicTo help translate this research into action, Abt Global’s Lisa Mayo and Jennifer Peers assembled a project team of experts in climate change and health communications to create a series of tools for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The tools are based on the results of the new assessment and are designed to help people better understand the risks of climate change, the connection to health and steps they can take to protect themselves.

Most recently, we helped to produce some of the indictor content for the EPA’s Climate Change Indicator report, which among other things explores the connections between climate change and heat-related deaths, and the increased risk of human exposure to West Nile virus.


Investigating Climate Change Links with Infectious Disease

Bringing its expertise in infectious disease and the environment together, Abt researchers are also exploring how climate change could influence the spread of infectious diseases such as West Nile virus, Dengue, and Zika virus.

“Our scientists are conducting studies in the lab and in the field. Our goal is to quickly turn the results of those studies to support policy and program decisions at all levels,” said Ryan Takeshita, a scientist at Abt. “Bringing together scientists, policy experts, decision makers and operational teams to develop research from theoretical consideration to practical application is a unique Abt capability.”


Understanding the Global Problem

Elsewhere, Abt researchers are investigating the benefits to public health when some of the most damaging air pollution – ambient fine particulate matter – is reduced. In a recent journal article, Abt’s Anna Belova and colleagues describe an approach to estimate the reductions in mortality resulting from transportation projects that can reduce this kind of pollution around the world.

The public health impact assessment methods used in this research are being applied in projects to help international donors and local governments make better-informed decisions when considering the potential costs and benefits of greenhouse gas emissions mitigation options that simultaneously reduce air pollution and climate-warming greenhouse gases. Additional project research is examining the potential human health benefits associated with improvements in wastewater infrastructure that are being considered to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The global reach and experience of Abt’s multi-disciplinary team of economists, scientists, engineers, health experts and policy analysts allows us to uniquely address the complex challenges that climate change presents to human health and welfare by offering fresh viewpoints and integrated options for response.

“Climate change is a global problem,” Belova said. “What we have is a global perspective.”

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