Illustration of an overheated person in a pollution-filled hot city

Heating up

What do hotter temperatures mean for everyday life?

For most people, climate change will mean higher temperatures. While there may be some health benefits – fewer cold-related deaths in the winter – mostly the prognosis is poor.

For a start, quoted temperature increases are an average. The reality is likely to be periods of extreme high temperature – heat-waves – which can be deadly.

Elderly and sick people are the most vulnerable. The European heat-wave of 2003 led to more than 70,000 deaths.

American researchers have found evidence that rising temperatures driven by unabated climate change will result in thousands more heat-related premature deaths each year. They expect more than 150,000 additional heat-related deaths to have occurred in the USA by the end of the century.

As well as these direct effects, there will be dangers from greater exposure to ultraviolet radiation and higher quantities of pollen and pollution, triggering respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Higher temperatures also promote food-borne diseases. The link between high ambient temperatures and increased incidence of Salmonella food poisoning, for example, is well-established.

Lead image:

Illustration © Glen McBeth


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Statistics and maths, Microbiology, Ecology and environment, Health, infection and disease
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development