Human Health and Well-being in a Warming World

Centennial Issue
Population Health Climate Change

Policy Points:

  • After decades of scientific progress and growth in academic literature, there is a recognition that climate change poses a substantial threat to the health and well-being of individuals and communities both in the United States and globally.
  • Solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change can have important health cobenefits.
  • A vital component of these policy solutions is that they must also take into consideration historic issues of environmental justice and racism, and implementation of these policies must have a strong equity lens.

Anthropogenic climate change first emerged as an issue of interest in the mid- to late-1980s. Much of the early communication regarding potential impacts of climate change was narrowly focused on scientific findings related to atmospheric chemistry and associated environmental issues as well as synthesis reports with future projections of climate change such as the periodic reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Dialogue around climate change impacts occasionally arose among the general public following particularly severe extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 (a Category 5 hurricane that was, at the time, the most intense storm on record in the Atlantic basin). However, the complexity of early scientific communication to an insufficiently informed public—combined with both targeted misinformation campaigns1,2 about the nature of anthropogenic climate change and legitimate discourse about alternative explanations for observed global changes—weakened the perception of the direct link between climate change and associated impacts. An additional challenge to early literature and studies of climate impacts on human health was a lack of dedicated funding for projects addressing this link.


  1. McCright AM, Dunlap RE. Challenging global warming as asocial problem: an analysis of the conservative movement’s counter-claims. Soc Probl. 2000;47(4):499-522.
  2. Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air. Union of Concerned Scientists; 2007.Accessed June 21, 2022.

Nori-Sarma A, Wellenius G. Human Health and Well-being in a Warming World. Milbank Q. 2023;101(S1): 99-118.