Climate change and public health: for kids, grownups, and music-lovers

Let’s have a brief conversation about climate change.

How is climate change related to health?

Here is some of what the World Health Organization has to say: “Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health—clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.” Global warming leads to excess deaths, and many major killers—diarrheal diseases, malnutrition, and malaria among them—are sensitive to climate and expected to worsen as it changes.

Fine. But what about health conditions I’m more likely to encounter right here? Is climate change going to affect my health?

Yes. The American Public Health Association makes it clear that climate change is going to affect your health. Do you have allergies? Do you have West Nile Virus in your area? Did Super Storm Sandy leave you with a house full of mold? All of those can be linked to climate change.

What can I read about the science of climate change?

A pretty good and detailed place to start is NASA, which keeps track of our planet’s vitals signs, or the Environmental Protection Agency. You can also subscribe to the National Academy of Sciences’ climate change email list and read about events in various communities, learn about sustainability efforts, and find out what information is available for use in classrooms.

Is there a really simple explanation of climate change—one that I can share with my kids?

Yes. The folks at just last month announced the winners of an international student competition that produced some terrific videos intended for various ages.

Can I do anything about climate change? Can you give me some tips that won’t cost a lot in time or money?

I can’t; but the EPA has some tips for you on its website.

What about hot weather tips for me? Where can I get information?

The National Institutes of Health has hot weather safety advice posted for older folks, but the suggestions are good for all of us.

You’ve posted some nifty public health music in the past, like the Dust Pneumonia Blues and Mosquito Moan. Where’s the music for climate change?

You don’t need a YouTube of songs like “Heatwave” or “Hot Time Summer in the City.” You need to see scientists singing about climate change - in this case, “Our Biggest Challenge” from the team. It will never be a hit, but it has some wise words: “It is one global ecosystem.”

Janet Golden, a Rutgers University history professor, specializes in the histories of medicine, childhood and women.

Read more about The Public's Health.

Sandy Bauers blogs regularly about climate change at GreenSpace.