Climate Change is Harming Human Health

In communities across the Midwest, climate change is harming our health now. The latest report from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) shows that more flooding, extreme weather events, longer growing seasons, and warmer average temperatures are contributing to an increase in heat-related illness, infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, illnesses from contaminated food and water, worsening chronic illnesses, injuries and deaths from dangerous weather events, and mental health problems. 

“The health benefits of acting now to promote cleaner energy are numerous. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions [leads to] fewer respiratory issues, hospital admissions, and heart attacks.” – WICCI Human Health Working Group 

Extreme heat events will become more common as the climate warms. By mid-century, Milwaukee will likely experience triple the number of days with a heat index above 105 degrees, a combination of air temperature and humidity. The health of everyone is at risk during extreme heat events but some of us face greater risk than others. Low-income residents, older adults, people who work outside, and people with chronic conditions are at risk for heat stroke and dehydration at those temperatures. 

As Wisconsin is warming and becoming wetter, we are already seeing an increase in flooding. In addition to the physical damage of flooding, flood waters can contribute to contaminated drinking water in private wells. When houses flood, there are also serious concerns of respiratory health risks, including asthma. Heavy rains can also wash more nutrients into lakes and streams and fuel potentially toxic algal blooms. 

With longer growing seasons and warmer average temperatures in Wisconsin, disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes are becoming more widely distributed. These insects carry Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and other diseases. As the climate continues to warm, the active transmission season for these diseases is lengthening and infections will likely increase. 

But there is hope. The Human Health Working Group recommends a full embrace of clean energy, walkable communities, public transportation, green building design, and protecting the most vulnerable during extreme weather events. There is hope for the future, but it’s up to us. 

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) is a statewide collaboration of scientists and stakeholders formed as a partnership between UW–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  


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