Tag Archives: public health

There’s more to Summertime than Heat

You can’t miss the telltale sign of summertime: that classic spike in heat. We’re all probably feeling a little sweatier than usual, but the heat is more than just uncomfortable. 

That’s because temperature is directly linked to air quality and our health – and climate change aggravates that link. 

The Basics of Air Pollution 

Ozone is what we more commonly refer to as smog. Particle matter (PM) is a combination of incredibly small solids and liquids in the air that can get trapped in our lungs or bloodstream. Both of these pollution sources are directly associated with increased rates of asthma attacks, heart damage, lung cancer, dementia, and even pregnancy risks. 

State of the Air 

The American Lung Association (ALA) recently released their 2020 “State of the Air” report, which details that nearly half of all Americans live in counties with poor air quality. The report also finds that eight of the Commonwealth’s reporting counties demonstrated more unhealthy days of ozone levels compared to last year’s report. These counties are Barnstable, Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester. 

One of the Culprits is Climate Change 

Sources that spew greenhouse gasses, like cars and power plants, also spit out PM and ozone. As climate change continues to bring higher daily average temperatures, air pollution like ozone increases. In fact, the three years studied in ALA’s most recent report (2016-2018) comprise three out of the five hottest years in the United States, correlating with both climate change’s warming effects and the report’s findings of increased unhealthy days of ozone levels.  

Differences in Impact 

We all don’t feel climate change’s impacts on air quality the same. Certain vulnerable populations, such as people of color (especially Black Americans) and low socioeconomic status communities, have shown to suffer disproportionately from public health impacts like increased air pollution.  

A recent systematic review makes this link even more clear. The review’s research team examined over 32 million U.S. births and found a direct connection between exposure to extreme levels of heat, air pollution, and pregnancy risks like underweight or stillborn babies. But they also found that Black mothers and babies across the country suffered these risks at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.  

Breathe Easy, We Can Help 

Albeit in different ways, climate change affects every one of us. Coming together to fight the crisis means acting to protect our communities, our neighbors, and our most vulnerable populations. Anyone can make a difference, here’s how: 

  1. The EPA is rolling back environmental regulations that protect us, wildlife, and plants by refusing to hold polluting companies responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution accountable. Use your voice to oppose these rollbacks and protect the health of our environment. 
  1. Those who suffer a greater burden from climate change and air pollution tend to be marginalized communities, like people of color. Learn more about climate change and racism and why it’s important to act on climate with equity in mind. 
  1. Take a Climate Pledge to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by yourself or with your friends, family, and community. 
  1. Sign up for our newsletter, Climate Connection, for climate information, action, and community solutions. We’ll send you monthly updates on climate change and how you can make a difference. 

Climate Action Benefits our Health

We can see climate change’s impacts on the health of our world all around us, right here in Massachusetts. Our friends, families, and neighbors have to adapt (just like wildlife and plants) to new and heightened threats – and one of those is a threat to public health.

Climate change’s warming temperatures influence the spread of disease bearing insects, like the Deer Tick, Ixodes scapularis. Photo © Scott Bauer, USDA/Flickr

Warm, Warmer, Too Hot

Warming temperatures bring with them a rise in extreme heat events, which are linked to an increase in hospital admissions for cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory disorders.

Cities are hit especially hard by extreme heat. Urban areas experience a phenomenon known as “urban heat islands”: when specific parts of cities face significantly higher temperatures than their suburban or rural counterparts.

This heat difference arises because of how well each environment absorbs and holds heat. Suburban or rural areas have abundant plants, grass, trees, and other flora – tools that NASA calls “nature’s air conditioner.” Cities, on the other hand, don’t contain as much flora. Dark asphalt, sidewalks, and buildings that comprise our cities aggravate this problem by actually generating more heat.

An Uptick in Disease-Bearing Ticks (and Others)

Warming temperatures also influence the spread of disease bearing insects. Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Zika virus are all occurring more frequently in the US and are all carried by insects like ticks and mosquitoes. As Massachusetts, warms, these diseases are surviving in and spreading to areas they weren’t able to before.

It’s the Sneezon

Climate change makes springs and summers longer, increasing Massachusetts’ growing season and consequently how long plants produce pollen. Both these byproducts intensify allergy symptoms.

Allergies are only one part of the problem. Burning fossil fuels creates excess greenhouse gasses and pollution, like particle matter (PM), that lowers air quality. Such pollution is directly linked to the development of asthma in young children and worsening asthma symptoms in those already dealing with the illness.

Social Equity in Public Health

Climate change’s disparate impacts are nothing new, and are deeply rooted in history. The very sources that have pumped greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere for years have been overwhelmingly sited near communities of color, especially Black communities. Additionally, urban heat islands tend to map onto almost the exact same locations Black communities were forced into in the 1930s through the formal practice of “redlining.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that marginalized populations bear the brunt of climate change’s public health effects. According to a 2018 study, communities in poverty faced 1.35 times the burden of PM pollution from sources like power plants and cars (also rampant greenhouse gas sources) compared to the overall population, people of color faced 1.28 times the burden, and Black Americans suffered 1.54 times the burden.

Even worse, marginalized communities like people of color tend to have less coverage, access, and use of quality health care. That means already vulnerable communities struggle in obtaining treatment for climate change induced heat-related illnesses, insect-borne diseases, allergies, and asthma.

We Can Fight Climate Change Together

Here’s how we can keep our friends, families, and our most vulnerable populations healthy and safe.

Find and Support a Local, Climate Justice Organization

By supporting a climate justice organization, you support people on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Take a Climate Pledge

Commit to reducing your greenhouse gas emissions by yourself or with your friends, family, or community.

Learn About Environmental Justice

Public health impacts demonstrate that the health of our environment is directly tied to the health of our communities, and some groups are disproportionately affected. Our climate fight must be guided by equity and justice – and we can start acting by learning.

Sign Up for our E-Newsletter, Climate Connection

Each month, we’ll send you climate information, community action, and solutions. Sign up for our newsletter to join our climate action community and help us tackle climate change.