Environmental Justice & Climate Change

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What is climate change?

Climate change is the change in global weather patterns regarded as a potential consequence of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.  Increases in temperature, storm activity and other potential consequences of climate change pose an immediate and growing threat to California’s environment, public health and economic vitality.

What is the relationship between climate change and environmental justice?

Evidence is emerging that some of the projected impacts of climate change on human health and well-being are already occurring.  Some of these impacts may disproportionately affect those who are socially or economically disadvantaged, presenting environmental justice concerns. 

OEHHA has conducted human health studies that have found relationships between higher temperatures and negative health outcomes.  Higher temperatures have been associated with increased occurence of death and illness, including hospital visits, emergency room visits, and birth defects.  This research has helped identify subgroups such as infants, and communities such as those in the Central Valley, that are particularly vulnerable to heat-related adverse health effects. This information enables OEHHA to increase efforts to warn vulnerable populations about the need to take proper precautions during heat waves and hot days.

Examples of climate change and environmental justice issues being investigated by OEHHA

The following studies are examples of the contributions of OEHHA scientists to the growing body of literature on climate change:

Indicators of Climate Change in California: Environmental Justice Impacts

OEHHA has developed indicators describing the disproportionate impacts of climate change on environmental justice communities.  The indicators chosen were selected based on evidence that:

  • Impacts of climate change are already occurring, rather than projected to occur based on future climate scenarios
  • Disparities exist among socioeconomic or racial groups in either the degree of exposure to a hazard, or the capacity to take action to reduce exposures or minimize adverse outcomes

The report presents four indicators that help track trends relating to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on these communities, including:

  1. Exposure to urban heat
  2. Vulnerability to wildfires
  3. Farm-worker exposure to extreme heat
  4. Air conditioner ownership and cost

A Case-crossover Study of Temperature and Infant Mortality in California

In a study looking at infant mortality across the state, OEHHA found that higher temperatures during the warm season were associated with higher risks for infant deaths.  Among the racial/ethnic groups examined, the risk was greatest among black infants.  Air pollution did not appear to influence the relationship.

Follow this link to view the abstract of this report or click here to view the press release associated with this report.  For more information or to request access to the article, you can contact Rupa Basu by email at rupa.basu@oehha.ca.gov or by phone at (510) 622-3156. 

The Impact of Recent Heat Waves on Human Health in California

OEHHA teamed with other researchers to examine the impacts of 19 heat waves that occurred between 1999 and 2009 in California.  These heat waves increased hospital admissions for several disease categories, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Dehydration
  • Acute renal failure
  • Heat illness
  • Mental illness

Statewide, there were 11,000 excess hospitalizations from extreme heat over the period; however, the majority of these events were not accompanied by a heat advisory or warning from the National Weather Service. Regional differences in impacts were observed, with the strongest health impacts in the Central Valley and the north and south coasts.

Follow this link to view the abstract of the report, or click here to download the report as a pdf.

For more information on the impacts of climate change in California, visit the Climate Change section of the OEHHA website.