Climate change is impacting our health

Photo courtesy of J. Pecora Photography

Health-related challenges are one of our greatest concerns in Blackfeet Country. Our preventable death incidence is amongst the highest in the nation, as a result of generational traumas and a multitude of other reasons. Suicide, substance misuse, emotional wellness and mental health, hunger, adequate and safe housing, access to primary care, maternal health, and violence-related death and injury, as well as chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease are top community priorities, according to the  2017 Blackfeet Community Health Assessment.

So why should we focus on climate change?

Climate change is likely to exacerbate or increase most of the health problems we are already facing. Understanding how climate change impacts health will help us craft responses that address our current health priorities and help us adapt to future climate conditions.

Wildfire is one example of how climate change is aggravating our existing health challenges.

Summer is fire season in Montana. Wildfires are becoming more intense and frequent, and wildfire season length is increasing. As wildfires increase, so do risks to our health. The flames themselves pose a risk to people and property, and the smoke diminishes air quality. This is especially dangerous for our infant and elder population, along with those of us who suffer from asthma or chronic lung diseases.

Wildlife - Sadie Lyn Harwood
More frequent and intense wildfires and longer wildfire seasons mean Montana residents are more exposed to particulates, impacting health. Photo by Sadie Harwood.

Wildfire activity is influenced by warming temperatures and decreasing summer rainfall. These conditions are driven by climate change. As with many climate-related impacts, some people are more vulnerable to wildfire impacts than others.  For example, people who tend to be most vulnerable to wildfire smoke are people who…

  • have preexisting health conditions like cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease,
  • work outside, and/or
  • do not have air conditioning or lack other ventilation or air filtration systems.

Understanding who is most vulnerable to climate impacts can help us better prepare to care for everyone’s needs when planning for climate change.

Wildfire is just one example of how climate change is impacting our health. We encourage you to learn more about how climate change is impacting health in Blackfeet Country. Click on the links below to read about:

Or, learn about specific health impacts related to:

You can also read about how climate change might be viewed as a health opportunity.

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