Health in a Warming World

Climate shocks are increasing health risks for most of the planet, says sociologist and demographer Brian Thiede.

illustration of three people running and silhouettes are in the pattern of scorched earth by Richard Mia


“There’s been a lot of attention placed on the potential for climate change to displace large numbers of people across international borders. Research has added some complexity to this narrative, showing that in some cases, exposure to droughts and other types of environmental stressors actually reduces migration, because droughts can impoverish people and they no longer have the resources needed to move. I would argue that people who are stuck in shock-affected contexts are probably the most vulnerable in terms of their health.

“The impacts of environmental change can be direct. Extreme heat has direct physiological effects that increase disease and mortality risk. Temperature and precipitation lead to disease vectors in new places. Floods can affect water supplies. Rising temperatures can lead to reductions in crop production. This can affect the quantity, quality, and price of food and peoples’ ability to purchase food and health care.

“Climate change has the potential to significantly increase health risks, and most populations in the world will experience some change in their vulnerability. The nature and magnitude of these changes will vary depending on a range of circumstances—economic resources, baseline health conditions of the population, responsiveness of policymakers. Through our new initiative at the Population Research Institute, we are bringing together population scientists, social scientists, and climate scientists to identify research gaps so that the right kinds of interventions can inform policy and program interventions targeting those who need them most.”