Climate and Health

One consequence of climate change that has obvious and lasting ramifications is the impact on human health. In the last 50 years, scientists have observed an increase in global temperature at a rate faster than ever before recorded. As a result, urban populations face greater risk from extreme heat and infectious disease. Communities in the developing world struggle with the most basic issues of sanitation and safe shelter as infrastructure crumbles following historic storms; meanwhile the healthy development of infants and children is permanently damaged by exposure to air pollution and other toxins, exposure that science now understands often begins in utero.

As President Barack Obama explained in a press conference on April 7, 2015, “Climate change is having an impact on our public health.” He called for a proactive approach to respond to a variety of challenges, including the migration of insect-borne diseases to new regions and elevated asthma risk from a prolonged allergy season. 

Researchers at the Mailman School’s Program on Climate and Heallth, the first of its kind in the United States, have been studying these and other environmental health risks factors for years, identifying today’s most pressing issues, forecasting future challenges, and developing analytical tools to improve long-term health resiliency to climate extremes. Faculty collaborate across Columbia University and beyond to work in the areas of global environmental change, human health, and policy. 

Using an array of modeling techniques, Jeffrey Shaman, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences, forecasts West Nile Virus, influenza, and other infectious disease to help predict health risks. Frederica Perera, professor of Environmental Health Sciences and director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, works to identify and prevent developmental delays associated with prenatal exposure to air pollutants that worsen health and contribute to global warming. Patrick Kinney, professor of Environmental Health Sciences, was the first to show that climate change could worsen urban smog problems in the U.S. and document the related adverse health effects. Kim Knowlton, assistant clinical professor of Environmental Health Sciences, explores connections between climate change, heat, and health, including asthma.