Health and the Environment

The Challenge

From the effects of widespread wildfire smoke on pregnant women to the safety risks agricultural workers face in extreme heat, just about every consequence of climate change impacts human health. In our own communities and around the globe, these dramatic health effects are increasing — harming well-being from infancy through adulthood. Climate change stressors affecting large populations include food insecurity and diminished air and water quality, as well as more severe weather events such as droughts, hurricanes and extreme precipitation causing flooding. Specific health problems and threats include:

  • The spread of disease-causing pathogens into previously unaffected regions
  • Water shortages jeopardizing drinking water quality and access
  • Wildfires worsening asthma and causing new respiratory problems in healthy individuals
  • Disaster-induced mental trauma that can continue for years
  • Greater amounts of allergenic pollen leading to more severe reactions
  • Heat stress that can lead to life-threatening heat stroke and neurological impairments, stress on the cardiovascular system and diminished kidney function
  • Managing the health risks created by our changing climate is an unprecedented challenge that we must tackle collaboratively with every available tool.

The Vision

Health problems driven by climate change more intensely affect low-resource areas and minority, Indigenous and immigrant communities—with higher health risks for children and older adults; persons with asthma, compromised immune systems, disabilities, and chronic mental health conditions; and certain occupational groups, such as outdoor workers, firefighters and others on the front lines. Through One Climate’s interdisciplinary collaboration, UC Davis will address public health needs by equipping health care professionals with robust research and by providing industry and policymakers with data ready to translate into concrete actions that will protect workers and communities, now and in the future.

The Work

Climate-change impacts like excessive heat and wildfires are causing increasingly intense damage to air quality and water supplies, while posing direct and unequally distributed threats to human health. One Climate’s early projects will focus on mitigating key environmental risk factors in underserved communities and devising strategies to protect the health of California’s outdoor workers, including those in the high-risk agricultural industry. Our scholars, scientists and students will answer questions such as:

  • What are the respiratory, cardiopulmonary and immune effects of wildfire smoke, and how long do they last? Who is most affected?
  • Who is most at risk for mental trauma from wildfires and other climate-related disasters, and what interventions are most effective?
  • After a major storm, drought or wildfire, how do we determine if our water is safe to drink?
  • What pathways can we develop to increase health equity and build resilience among vulnerable populations?
  • How can technology be used to monitor environmental hazards and ensure that resources are available to those most in need?
  • Before sea level rise displaces entire neighborhoods, towns or cities, how do we prepare to meet the health needs of the displaced?

Despite the dire challenges climate change poses to human and planetary health—and the many questions left to answer—there is hope.