From more cases of heat-related illnesses to increases in tick-borne diseases, family physician Paul Friedrichs has seen the impacts of climate change on the health of his patients. He understands all too well that climate change is a health issue.
“Environment is so critical to our health,” he says. “Our environment determines a majority of our health conditions: Infectious diseases, toxins, radiation in the environment, the food we have access to, allergens — just so much of human health is related to where we try to live.”
Consider this summer’s record-breaking temperatures (with July 2022 registering the third-hottest July on record), which increased the risk of heat-related illness for millions of Americans — and even death. Amid growing wildfires, a Harris Poll commissioned by CVS Health® reports that the U.S. is also expected to spend $176 billion in 2060 on respiratory and cardiovascular diseases attributable to air pollution — an eight-fold increase from 2015.
And in September, warmer air helped Hurricane Ian produce historic 1-in-1,000-year rainfall as it hit the Gulf Coast of Florida, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Studies show that hurricanes have many health impacts beyond injury and loss of life, including a rise in infectious diseases and mental health effects.
Experts say worsening climate change can pose even greater health threats to people of color, low-income people and other marginalized groups who have the least resources to prepare for and recover from these disasters.
“The impact the environment has on human health, from heat-related illnesses to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, is irrefutable,” says Sheryl Burke, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and chief sustainability officer. “If we can all work together to improve the health of the planet, we can also improve the health of all the people who live on it."