Equity Exchange August 2022: Climate Change and Health

September 1, 2022 | Aya in the Community

In this short video, UCSD Professor Dr. Steven Parish explains how climate change is affecting our health and how we can avoid the worst effects if we act now.

At the end of the video, we highlight organizations working towards cleaner water, cleaner air and growing urban forests.


For those of you who’d rather read through the content (or you’re in a quiet place not conducive to video-watching) we’ve got you covered:

Climate change is a great intensifier, amplifier and aggravator of human health problems. There was a study just published in Nature Climate Change stating that over half of all pathogenic diseases are aggravated by climate change.

Part of the problem with climate change is that everything interacts with everything else. Water security is one factor, where do you have to go to get water? Even here in the United States, we have people who don’t have access to piped water.

They have to get in a truck and go to a place where they can get water. They fill tanks and they take it home. And so, there are risks associated with not having access to water. And when they have access to water, there are all kinds of questions about, is it polluted, are there pathogens in it?

How do you feel about breathing wildfire smoke? It’s not a good thing. And climate change produces droughts. Droughts mean that vegetation, forests, dry out. They’re dry, they’re tinder, they burn and then they burn again. I’m not sure that we really understand the exact health effects of breathing in wildfire smoke. It’s likely to cause cancer. It’s likely to cause cardiovascular problems. But the impact is pretty direct.

Displacement because of climate change is a worldwide problem. Places like the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where people, at least less affluent people, can’t afford to rebuild after their houses are destroyed by hurricanes or just by storms. So affluent people can rebuild, less affluent people can’t. And so, the less affluent are the people who are displaced. Calling them climate refugees is important because it identifies exactly what is happening.

Climate change is a challenge for global mental health. My students at UCSD would want me to say that climate change causes emotional distress. It’s something that they feel and they want to be empowered. They feel deeply that they have to do something about climate change because they’re experiencing all of these emotions that are very distressing.

We’ve had to invent new terms in order to identify the threats to well-being. What do you feel when the place where you grew up is unalterably changed and perhaps destroyed by climate events? What do you feel when your house burns down? What do you feel when your family is forced to move because of floods or extreme weather?

We can’t live in fear, in denial. We have to be able to do something about climate change. So, I think that society has to convert to clean energy, renewable energy, green energy, very, very quickly. I think that in order to solve the climate crisis, we’re going to have to integrate nature and culture, cities and forests in a way that we haven’t done in the past.

I think that we need to green our cities. Urban forests are good for the air you breathe. They cool things off, they absorb pollutants, they address the climate problem. I think that life could be better, more wonderful. It doesn’t have to be dark, grim.

We can avoid climate apocalypse, but it’s going to take a lot of political will. It’s going to take individuals doing their part. It’s going to take corporations doing their part. It turns out that everyone can do something. Doing what we can to mitigate climate change also improves human health. We could find solutions that improve health, that make the world better, that makes cities more livable, that make us happier.

Here are some notable organizations working to combat climate change:

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