6 Ways Climate Change Harms Health in California

  • Jennifer Scroggins, Lily Swartz, Ann Whidden
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Our health and climate are inextricably linked. From polluted air quality to shrinking food and waters supplies, communities across California—and around the world—are already experiencing climate change’s harmful health impacts. The looming effects upon California’s communities, particularly those that are disproportionately vulnerable, are becoming increasingly urgent and severe.

In a new infographic created by the Public Health Institute and our Center for Climate Change and Health, learn how climate change is already contributing to California’s rising rates of disease, poverty, and death—and find out how you can take action now

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Infographic References

Poor Air Quality

Caiazzo F., Ashok A., Waitz I., Yim S. & Barrett S. (2013). Air pollution and early deaths in the United States. Part I: Quantifying the impact of major sectors in 2005. Atmospheric Environment, 79, 198-208. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2013.05.081.

California Highway Patrol. (2013). Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) 2013 Report. Retrieved from

American Lung Association. (2016). State of the Air 2016. Chicago, IL. Retrieved from

Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, USC Dornsife. (2009). The Climate Gap: Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans & How to Close the Gap. Los Angeles, CA: Morello-Frosch, R., Pastor M., & Sadd, J., Shonkoff, S. Retrieved from

The White House. (2014). The Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans. Washington, DC. Retrieved from


Heat-Related Illness & Death

National Weather Service. (2015). Weather Fatalities. Retrieved from

Hoshiko S., English P., Smith D., Trent R. (2010). A simple method for estimating excess mortality due to heat waves, as applied to the 2006 California heat wave. International Journal of Public Health, 55(2):133-7. doi: 10.1007/s00038-009-0060-8.

Knowlton K., Rotkin-Ellman M., King G., Margolis H. G., Smith D., Solomon G., … English, P. (2009). The 2006 California Heat Wave: Impacts on Hospitalizations and Emergency Department Visits. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(1), 61–67.

California EPA. (2013). Preparing California for extreme heat, guidance and recommendations. Sacramento, CA: California Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from

Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, USC Dornsife. (2009). The Climate Gap: Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans & How to Close the Gap. Los Angeles, CA: Morello-Frosch, R., Pastor M., & Sadd, J., Shonkoff, S. Retrieved from

Morello-Frosch R. & B. Jesdale. (2008). Unpublished impervious surface and tree cover data. Data for this analysis was derived from: U.S. Geological Survey’s National Land Cover Dataset 2001., accessed on June 20, 2007; and ESRI’s ArcMap census boundary files geo/www/cob/bdy_files.html, accessed June 6, 2008.

Jesdale B., Morello-Frosch R., & Cushing L. (2013). The Racial/Ethnic Distribution of Heat Risk–Related Land Cover in Relation to Residential Segregation. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121:811-817.

English P., K. Fitzsimmons, S. Hoshiko, T. Kim, H. G. Margolis, T. E., McKone, M. Rotkin-Ellman, G. Solomon, R. Trent & Z. Ross. (2007). Public health impacts of climate change in California: Community vulnerability assessments and adaptation strategies. Richmond, California: Climate Change Public Health Impacts Assessment and Response Collaborative, California Department of Public Health and Public Health Institute. Retrieved from

Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, USC Dornsife. (2009). The Climate Gap: Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans & How to Close the Gap. Los Angeles, CA: Morello-Frosch, R., Pastor M., & Sadd, J., Shonkoff, S. Retrieved from


Vector-Borne Diseases

Harrigan R. J., H. A. Thomassen, W. Buermann & T. B. Smith. (2014). A continental risk assessment of West Nile virus under climate change. Global Change Biology, 20, 2417–2425, doi:10.1111/gcb.12534.

Gillis J. (Feb 20, 2016). In Zika epidemic, a warning on climate change. The New York Times. Retrieved from

United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration. (n.d.). Potential for occupational exposure to lyme disease. [Safety and Health Information Bulletin]. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (May 4, 2016). Climate change: A risk for workers. [web page]. Retrieved from


Water Shortages

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (August 2, 2016). Climate impacts on water resources. [web page]. Retrieved from

Howard B. C. (2016). Snowpack 97% of average in California’s Northern Sierra. National Geographic. Retrieved from

California Department of Water Resources. (April 1, 2015). Sierra Nevada Snowpack is virtually gone; Water content now is only 5 percent of historic average, lowest since 1950. [press release]. Retrieved from

Underwood, E. (2015). Models predict longer, deeper US droughts. Science, 347(6223) 707 DOI: 10.1126/science.347.6223.707

Public Policy Institute of California. (2015). If drought continues: Environment and poor rural communities most likely to suffer. [press release]. Retrieved from


Sea-Level Rise & Natural Disasters

Westerling A. L., Bryant B. P., Preisler H. K., Holmes T. P., Hidalgo H.G., Das T., Shrestha R. (2011). Climate change and growth scenarios for California wildfires. Climatic Change, 109 (Suppl 1):S445–S463, doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0329-9

Hauer M. E., Evans J. M., Mishra D. R. (2016). Millions projected to be at risk from sea-leel rise in the continental United States. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/nclimate2961

Resources Legacy Fund. (2014). Flooding in San Francisco Bay: Risks and Opportunities. Sacramento, CA: Mount J. & Lowe J. Retrieved from

Pacific Institute. (2012). The Impacts of Sea Level Risk on the San Francisco Bay. Oakland, CA: California Energy Commission’s California Climate Change Center, Heberger M., Cooley H., Moore E. & Herrera P. Retrieved from

Food Insecurity

Knickmeyer, E. (2015). Drought fallows half-million acres in California. Capital Press, AP. Retrieved from

Souza C. (2006) Heat wave takes its toll on livestock, crops. Ag Alert. Retrieved from

BBC News. (July 29, 2006). Deaths mount amid California heat. BBC News. Retrieved from

Center for American Progress. (2015). Lessons on Climate Change and Poverty from the California Drought. Washington,DC: Ortiz, W. Retrieved from

California Research Bureau. (2013). Farmworkers in California: A Brief Introduction. Sacramento, CA. Retrieved from http://www.

Garofoli, J. (April 20, 2014). California drought: Food banks drying up, too. SF Gate. Retrieved from

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Aerial view of wildfire smoke


Wildfires & Extreme Heat: Resources to Protect Yourself & Your Community

Communities across the U.S. and around the world are grappling with dangerous wildfires and extreme heat. These threats disrupt and uproot communities and pose serious risks to environmental and community health—from rising temperatures, unhealthy air pollutants, water contamination and more. Find PHI tools, resources and examples to help communities take action and promote climate safety, equity and resiliency.

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