Where Will Climate Change Affect Health the Most?

A new online tool maps where Americans’ health may be most vulnerable to climate change

Reed Galin

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released an interactive tool today that maps climate-related health risks across the country, including extreme heat, poor air quality, drought, flooding, and infectious diseases. The maps present a snapshot of current health vulnerabilities using recent data at the state and county levels.

“If we stay on our present course, we can expect these health vulnerabilities from climate change to accelerate” said NRDC Senior Scientist Kim Knowlton on a conference call with reporters. “We need to prepare for the worst in extreme events and the health vulnerabilities that will result.”

According to the NRDC, one of the main health impacts Californians are facing with climate change is air pollution.  A recent report from the Public Policy Institute of California finds that two-thirds of Californians already see air pollution as a big problem.  The NRDC tool asserts that 90% of Californians live in areas that violate air quality standards, and that climate change will worsen this by bringing smoggier and hotter days.

Highlighted in red are California counties experiencing several unhealthy ozone days. Map: NRDC

The tool illustrates that the Central Valley and Southern California regions already experience several more extreme heat days each year “than expected,” and asserts that more are on the way, according to climate projections. It also plots out the state’s water crunch, which some California cities are already grappling with.

In addition to laying out the challenge, the tool also links to recommendations for adapting to increased health risks from climate change, including a section on California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy.

“We hope that our national maps will be used as a provocation for people to look and say, ‘Gee, we really need to dig in deeper,'” said Knowlton.

The tool’s data comes from a variety of sources, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Lung Association.