Climate Change and Air Quality: How Worsening Wildfires and Heat Waves Affect Lung Health, and What to Do About It
From the more than 20 wildfires currently scorching the western United States to more intense and frequent heat waves, the fingerprint of our changing climate is visible today. And these changes can have dangerous consequences for American families, now and for generations to come.
One way that climate change endangers health is by worsening air quality. Heat waves and wildfires, exacerbated by climate change, can worsen air pollution. Ground-level ozone pollution (aka smog) forms more easily in hotter temperatures and stagnant air, and wildfire smoke contributes to particle pollution. These two pollutants can have serious health effects – including asthma attacks, heart attacks, and even early death.
The health impacts of climate change don't stop at making it harder to continue progress cleaning up air pollution. Climate change is also leading to more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and droughts, longer and more intense allergy seasons and increased spread of water-borne and vector-borne diseases, including Lyme disease. And not everyone will be affected equally – some are more at risk than others, such as those living with a lung disease.
In light of the sweeping health effects caused by climate change, on June 19, 18 leading public health, patient advocacy, nursing and medical organizations, including the American Lung Association, released a Declaration on Climate Change and Health. It calls on President Trump, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to heed the clear scientific evidence and take steps now to reduce pollution that drives climate change and harms health.
It is now more urgent than ever that leaders and decision-makers step up and address the public health crisis caused by climate change, so that our nation and others around the world can avoid the worst impacts. Climate change threatens to undo decades of progress in health outcomes worldwide – which means that tackling it could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. The public health, patient advocacy, nursing and medical communities are united in efforts to protect the public from the impacts of climate change.
It's time to act
So what can you do to help?
- First, take steps to protect yourself from dangerous air pollution by checking your air quality, especially during wildfires and heat waves, at Airnow.gov.
- Secondly, you can take actions to reduce your individual contributions to climate change – such as driving less, opting to use active transportation, carpools or electric vehicles, and using less electricity in your household.
Lastly, add your voice to the call for action from our nation's leaders. One action you can take today: send a message to your representatives in Congress asking that they oppose legislation that would weaken protections against climate change and air pollution. Our decision-makers need to hear that our families' health must come first.
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