Issue 9 | January 2009

Earth as it would appear should the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt, raising ocean levels by an estimated 67.5 metres

Health and Climate Change

***Articles reviewed and updated in October 2014***

The Earth’s climate is changing. In fact, it has always been changing. What is different now is the speed of change and the main cause of change – human activities. This issue asks: What are the biggest threats to human health? Who will suffer as the climate changes? What can be done to minimise harm? And how do we cope with uncertainty?

Browse through the individual articles, check out our image galleries and poster, and consider our lesson ideas, which include an interactive game. This issue was first published in 2009; in 2014, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDF of the original 2009 issue has not been updated from its original form.

Catch up on climate change

Changes to environment and ecosystems: a climate change primer

Interested in climate change but not sure where to start? Our primer will help you understand the basics

Connecting climate change

The factors behind climate change are complex, dynamic and interlinked

How does climate change affect human health?

Climate change brings with it an increase in malnutrition, mental health conditions, infectious disease spread and even death

Five ways to study climate change

Are you interested in studying climate change? There are many different scientific disciplines that analyse the subject

Too hot for comfort

Organisms – including humans – are adapted to a narrow range of temperatures

The heat is on

Our climate is changing; with greenhouse gas emissions still rising, the planet is poised to undergo a profound change

Go for Gaia

In the 1970s James Lovelock developed the idea that Earth can be seen as a giant self-regulating organism – the Gaia hypothesis

The known impact of climate change

Documented evidence of the biological impact of climate change

Past, present and future

Reconstructing the past

How do we know what the Earth’s climate was like in the past?

Using the past to predict the future

How do we know what is going to happen next to the Earth – and to humans?

Imagining the future

We can measure things now, and infer what the past was like, but how do we predict what will happen next?

How can modelling be applied to human health?

The challenge is to understand how the key factors affecting health will be altered by climate change

Just a tick

Modelling of tick ecology can pinpoint areas at risk of tick-borne diseases

Dealing with uncertainty

How can we decide what to do when the future is unclear?

Difficult choices

Human psychology may be an obstacle to quick action when it comes to climate change

Climate change and people

Heating up

What do hotter temperatures mean for everyday life?

A growing problem

Agriculture: good news for some, bad news for most

Sea level rise

Rising sea levels are already threatening low-lying countries, as well as coastal regions

Mosquito measures

Will climate change promote the spread of malaria?

Stormy weather

Climate change promises to bring more turbulent weather


What is cholera, and how is it affected by climate change?

Social impact

How will communities or countries cope with climate change?

Reducing methane emissions

Could changing our diet help?

Climate and civilisation

Have changes in climate had a hand in the collapse of civilisations?

Vulnerable groups

Coastal communities

Coastal communities are likely to be hard hit by climate change

The animals

How will populations respond to climate change?

Food sources

How climate change could affect the future of the food we eat

Rural communities

Poor farmers will bear the brunt of climate change

The West

With its extensive infrastructure and resources, the West is better placed to withstand climate change – but it will not escape unscathed

Urban communities

More people now live in cities than in rural areas

Coral reefs

These beautiful structures protect coastal regions and provide food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people

A moving story

Climate change affects people’s mental as well as physical health

An age of uncertainty

Controversy? What controversy?

Raging arguments over climate change? Not among the experts…

Who’s who in climate scepticism

Who are the main factions in the debate and what do they believe?

Media coverage

Have the media created a spurious debate about climate change?

Using the media

Climate change activists and sceptics both attempt to use the media to promote their point of view

Uneasy bedfellows

What happens when science, the public and politics meet?

Is climate change really to blame?

Uncertainty extends to the health impacts of climate change

A model of health

Compared with climate modelling, health impact modelling is in its infancy

Dual processes

Climate change has seen parallel scientific and political processes

Economic perspectives

What is climate change’s impact on our bank balance?

A maverick view? Challenging the consensus

Can science cope with those who rock the boat?

Where next?

Public health response

How might public authorities protect people’s health in the future?

Adapt or avoid?

We will need to adapt to cope with the impact of climate change – but is there more we can do?

We can work it out

What does it take to get people working together?

Spinoff benefits

Many changes aimed at tackling climate change will bring extra benefits

Cutting carbon

How do we do it?

Stabilising greenhouse gas emissions

How likely is it that greenhouse gas emissions will be curbed?

Activities and lesson ideas

Climate Health Impact game

Explore the effects of climate change on the world’s population

Health and Climate Change poster

Download a copy of our poster, which explores the connections between carbon cycle and climate change

Further resources and activities on health and climate change

This topic stimulates interdisciplinary interest and much debate across the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Geoff Hill

Meet Geoff, who gives his perspective on climate change from the West Midlands

Real Voices interview: Kevin Mududa

Meet Kevin, who gives a local perspective from Kenya on climate change and its implications for human health

Real Voices interview: Kim Nguyen-Thi

Meet Kim, a doctor in Vietnam who gives her perspective on climate change

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic