NASA

Human Health Effects: Human Health as an Indicator of Global Climate Change

About This Module

Topics: Human Health, Disease, Climate, CO2-driven Changes, Insect Vectors, Water Quality
Grade levels:
9-12

Scenario

Studies have shown a close link between local climate characteristics and the occurrence of certain diseases. We also know that many environmental conditions affect human health, and these conditions can be greatly affected by climate and weather.

It has been estimated by the World Health Organization that climate changes have contributed to 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year and that one-fourth of the world’s diseases are because of the environmentally based contamination of air, water, soil, and food. Increases in temperatures and the resulting consequences have led to loss of life and decreased well-being of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

Most of the burden is carried by the world’s poorest people. Increased deaths and disease from malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria, heat waves, and floods occur in regions with little healthcare and poor emergency resources.

Consider the following when assessing the data for climate-related health issues:

  • As populated areas become hotter, residents must adapt. The very young, the elderly, and people already stressed by disease and/or poverty are the most vulnerable.
  • As temperatures over a region increase, the populations of disease-carrying insects may increase. Disease vectors, such as mosquitoes and ticks, increase along with the diseases they carry. Insect vectors are less likely to die if seasonal weather is not cold enough to kill them.
  • Heat-related illnesses and deaths occur more frequently as the number of heat waves increase, especially in urban areas. Poor people who cannot afford air conditioning to escape the heat are most affected by heat waves.
  • Higher temperatures increase ozone in the troposphere. Higher concentrations of ozone increase cardiovascular and pulmonary illnesses.
  • Waterborne pathogens increase in areas hit by increased numbers of floods.
  • Allergic diseases may increase with higher temperatures and longer growing seasons.
  • It is estimated that up to 35,000 people in five countries died because of the 2003 European heat wave when temperatures were 20-30 percent above average.
  • A July 1995 heat wave in the Chicago area killed more than 700 people.As populated areas become hotter, residents must adapt. The very young, the elderly, and people already stressed by disease and/or poverty are the most vulnerable.

As you work through this problem, use the related links and background information provided in the module to consider the interrelated aspects of potential global climate change. Human health may be affected by each aspect. A solid understanding of the mechanisms underlying the connections will allow for a more comprehensive report.

Task

As a research scientist working for the U.S. Panel on Global Climate Change Research, you and your colleagues have been collecting data in the field for months. Research on varying aspects of Earth’s diverse ecosystems has been studied, and your colleagues are just now gathering to share their experiences and their preliminary findings with the rest of the group.

With a major international conference looming, it’s time for all of you to analyze the data to formulate a comprehensive report on global climate change on Earth.

This conference requires more than a standard report citing data and displaying results in tables and graphs. Analysis of the data will be required to fully present an accurate picture of the state of the planet’s climate and trends that have been the focus of heated controversy and debate for the last decade. As a scientist, you naturally look at the data from purely objective perspectives.

An important element of the ongoing research on global climate change is the study of how any climate changes may affect human health. Understanding the mechanisms behind potential climate changes will allow accurate predictions of impacts to human health and the social and political factors that will affect the well-being of millions of Earth’s inhabitants.

Your team is tasked with researching the predicted climate changes and the corresponding impact, if any, that the changes will have on human health. You will be responsible for reporting both the changes and consequences. Once an accurate assessment is made, we can move on to resolutions that might alleviate any negative impacts.

Remember: There are quite a few research teams analyzing different global climate change indicators. Your indicator, human health effects, will be an important component to the overall climate change picture.

In order to present accurate, complete, and valid findings you will have to:

1) Analyze the data and identify any trend that occurred in human health around the world.

Think before and after to help you identify a “big picture” of the parameter and the changes that may have occurred over decades.

2) What are the impacts of this change?

Impacts of changes in human health are both short and long term. The international panel will need to know impending impacts in order to plan for the future. What socioeconomic and environmental information is needed to accurately assess the risks?

3) What appears to be the source(s) of the changes? Can you identify a major cause?

This is very important to understanding the mechanisms that drive the change and, therefore, important to finding a possible solution or remediation of the impact.

4) What solutions or mediations do you see that could mitigate the change? How long would they take to make a difference? What are the pros and cons of the approach?

Sample Rubrics

The developing rubrics page in the Problem Based Learning section provides a content-specific rubric for the Human Health Effects module under the Sample Rubrics heading.

 

Learning Objectives

Alignment of Learning Objectives and Standards: Human Health as a Key Indicator

Learning Objective

Climate Literacy Standard

National Science Content Standard

West Virginia State Science Standard

Grades 9-12

Explain how environmental conditions can affect human health.

3a

6a

6c

7b

7c

C—Life Science

F—Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

 

CS: 2—Content of Science—Physical Science

List several trends in global climate conditions that produce adverse human health conditions.

6a

6b

C—Life Science

F—Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

CS: 2—Content of Science—Environmental Science

Conceptual Biology

Explain how changes in heat, cold, and air quality affect human health and how these changes can be anthropogenic.

1

2a

3a

7c

F—Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

CS: 2—Content of Science—Environmental Science

Conceptual Biology

Describe how changing atmospheric conditions can affect agricultural yields and crop production and explain the impact to human health that may result from these changes.

1

3d

6c

7b

7f

C—Life Science

F—Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

CS: 2—Content of Science Environmental Science

Earth Science

List some climate-sensitive diseases.

7e

7f

C—Life Science

 

CS: 2—Content of Science—Human Anatomy and Physiology

Biology

Conceptual Biology

Explain how changing environmental conditions will produce increased severe weather events such as floods, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes that will negatively affect human health.

1

7a

7b

7c

C—Life Science

D—Earth and Space Science

F—Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

CS: 2—Content of Science—Biology

Earth Science

Define aeroallergen and explain its significance to global climate change and human health.

2e

7e

7f

C—Life Science

 

CS: 2—Content of Science—Environmental Science

List and describe human diseases and health conditions that may increase because of predicted global climate changes.

1

7e

7f

C—Life Science

 

CS: 2—Content of Science—Human Anatomy and Physiology

Biology

Conceptual Biology

Describe socioeconomic factors that affect human health as it is impacted by our global climate.

7f

F—Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

CS: 2—Content of Science—Environmental Science

Apply research skills to locate relevant data on human health and global climate change.

 

A—Science as Inquiry

F—Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

CS: 1—Nature of Science

CS: 2—Content of Science—Conceptual Biology

CS: 3—Application of Science

Analyze data to identify treads occurring in human health issues.

 

A—Science as Inquiry

E—Science and Technology

G—History and Nature of Science

CS: 1—Nature of Science

CS: 2—Content of Science—Conceptual Biology

CS: 3—Application of Science

Use scientific data to support a position on human health impacts from global climate change.

4e

4f

A—Science as Inquiry

E—Science and Technology

CS: 1—Nature of Science

CS: 2—Content of Science—Conceptual Biology

CS: 3—Application of Science

Using data, draw conclusions about the mechanisms that drive global climate change that affect human health and what can be done to mitigate the problems.

4e

4f

A—Science as Inquiry

E—Science and Technology

CS: 1—Nature of Science

CS: 2—Content of Science—Conceptual Biology

CS: 3—Application of Science

Featured Data

 

Human Health Effects: Distribution of Deaths for Hazard Categories in the United States

 

 

This pie chart shows the percentages of deaths (out of 19,958) blamed on 11 hazard categories from 1970-2004. Heat/Drought caused the most deaths, followed by severe weather. The analysis was performed before the 2005 hurricane season, which resulted in approximately 2,000 deaths.

 

Source
T. R. Karl, J. M. Melillo, & T. C. Peterson (eds.). (2009). Global climate change impacts in the United States. Cambridge University Press.

 

Pollen Counts Rise with Increasing Carbon Dioxide

 

 

This graph depicts the pollen counts from ragweed grown in chambers having the CO2 concentration of 280 parts per million (ppm) present in 1900, the pollen count at 370 ppm in 2000, and the projected count in 2075. Allergic reactions to pollen cause respiratory distress to millions of Americans each year.

 

Source
T. R. Karl, J. M. Melillo, & T. C. Peterson (eds.). (2009). Global climate change impacts in the United States. Cambridge University Press.

 

Projected Increase in Heat-related Deaths in Chicago

 

 

This graph shows the number of projected deaths per year because of heat stress for the city of Chicago. The projections are averaged over a three-decade period of 1975, 2055, and 2085 under lower and higher CO2 emission predictions.

 

Source
T. R. Karl, J. M. Melillo, & T. C. Peterson (eds.). (2009). Global climate change impacts in the United States. Cambridge University Press.

 

Resources

 

 

National Resources Defense Council: The Earth’s Best Defense: Climate Change Threatens Health Site
http://www.nrdc.org/health/climate/

 

Web MD: Global Warming May Boost Deaths
http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20070928/global-warming-may-prove-deadly

CBS News HealthWatch: Global Warming May Boost Deaths: Hotter Summers May Mean More Heat-related Deaths, Experts Predict
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/01/health/webmd/main3314254.shtml

Climate Change Will Erode Foundations of Health, World Health Organization Warns
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080407094610.htm

Study Links 'Smog' to Arctic Warming
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060319183843.htm

Children at Increased Risk from Effects of Global Climate Change, Report Says
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071029121121.htm

Most Health Department Directors See Climate Change as Looming Health Threat
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080729160825.htm

The Impact of Global Warming on Health and Mortality: Causes of Cold-related and Heat-related Deaths
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/494582_2

 

"Deadly Dozen" Diseases Could Stem from Global Warming
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/10/081007-climate-diseases.html

 

The Medical and Public Health Impacts of Global Warming
http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/global-warming-fact-sheet.pdf

 

Scientists Concerned About Effects of Global Warming on Infectious Diseases
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070522082450.htm

Climate Change and Emerging Infectious Diseases
http://archive.greenpeace.org/climate/impacts/erwin/3erwin.html

Medscape Article: Asthma Prevalence Up 12% in Last Decade: CDC
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/741989



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