Higher temperatures due to climate change will have multiple effects on public health. In some areas, climate change will increase the amount of air pollution in the form of ozone and particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked to reduced lung function, asthma, and premature death. Allergies are also expected to get worse, owing to an earlier onset of pollen season resulting from warmer temperatures. (The presence of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere itself can stimulate plants to produce more allergens.)
Heat waves put communities at risk of an increased number of hospitalizations and deaths. Those especially vulnerable to weather-related risks include the urban elderly, who are less mobile and thus might not be able to relocate to cooling stations, and low-income communities where residents are less likely to have the means to evacuate under extreme conditions, as was the case during Hurricane Katrina.
Photo: After a heat wave killed 750 people in Chicago in 1995, the city set up “cooling centers” where residents who lacked air conditioning could get relief. The following summer, temperatures reached 99 on Aug. 1, and Deonte Chance, left, and Bryan Walker took advantage. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)