Where Will Climate Change Affect Health the Most?

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

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.” Continue reading

Another Climate Change Impact: Smog

Los Angeles cloaked in smog shortly after sunrise. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Air pollution, already a problem for much of central and southern California, will get worse as temperatures warm, according to a new report from scientists at UC Davis and UC Berkeley.

By mid-century, trouble spots like the Central Valley and Los Angeles could experience between six and 30 more days per year when ozone concentrations exceed federal clean-air standards, depending on how much temperatures rise, and assuming that pollutant emissions in the state remain at current levels, the scientists project. Continue reading

CA Wildfires Responsible for Unhealthy Ozone Levels

Those of us in the San Francisco Bay Area woke up to the smell of smoke on Monday morning, the result of the fires that burned on Angel Island through the night scorching about 400 acres.  Wildfires also burned in nearby Napa country throughout the weekend.  While we know that inhaling all that smoke can’t be a good thing, a new study out from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has quantified some of the risks, and what they’ve found is dangerous amounts of ground level ozone.

The study, which focused on California’s wildfires September and October of last year, found that the fires repeatedly boosted ozone to unhealthy levels – levels that exceed U.S. health standards — across much of California and Nevada.

While ozone in the upper atmosphere where it blocks ultraviolet radiation from the sun is a good thing for life on Earth, it’s a bad thing down here at the surface where ozone can cause breathing difficulty and aggravate respiratory problems like asthma and emphysema in humans and it can harm agricultural crops.  The EPA’s brochure on “good” and “bad” ozone identifies ozone as the main component of urban smog.

Many climate scientists are predicting hotter and drier weather for the American West, likely increasing the frequency and duration of wildfires.  “Bad” ozone might be something we’ll be getting used to.

Here’s a July article from the San Francisco Chronicle with an overview of California’s fires for the first half of 2008.