How climate change affects our health
Find out how climate change is affecting the health of our friends, families, and communities and see the solutions that could make a positive difference
Laalitha Surapaneni, MD, has a surprising message about climate change: Not all hope is lost.
It’s an overwhelming problem, Surapaneni admits, but instead of feeling demoralized about it, she wants you to feel something else. Urgency. Opportunity. Even optimism.
Surapaneni is an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, an M Health Fairview hospitalist, and a passionate advocate for climate change action—especially as it relates to the health of our friends, families, and communities.
From poor air quality and warmer temperatures that worsen respiratory disorders, to more droughts that compromise food supply, to longer allergy seasons and even mental health concerns, climate change is undoubtedly affecting our health right now, Surapaneni says.
“Simply put, climate change is a public health issue,” she says.
An immensely complicated issue at that. The health ramifications of climate change are as diverse as the people who live and work in our communities, Surapaneni says.
For a child with asthma, for example, bad air quality means more absences from school and fewer opportunities to play outside or participate in sports. For the farmer in rural Minnesota, warmer temperatures mean an ever-increasing threat of heat-related illness and an influx of pests like ticks. For folks in lower-income communities and communities of color, climate change exacerbates existing health disparities. For Indigenous peoples, it means a changing relationship with the land that they’ve lived alongside for generations.
Confronting such vast and varied challenges will take creative solutions, Surapaneni says. Supporting community-led efforts to combat climate change, advocating for structural and policy changes, and looking out for family, friends, and neighbors are all ways to join the cause.
“Change won’t happen by itself,” she says. “Think about how you can take action. Where will you make a difference?”
ILLUSTRATION BY RYAN JOHNSON