Climate Change & Health – FAQs

Will climate change impact Hawaiʻi? 

Yes, climate change will impact Hawaiʻi. The islands are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to our location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Expected impacts include higher temperatures, rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns, more frequent and intense storms, increased coastal erosion, biodiversity loss, and ocean acidification.  

These changes pose risks to Hawaiʻi’s unique island and marine ecosystems, coastal communities, Native Hawaiian communities with deep cultural connections to the land, water resources, agriculture, tourism industry, and our overall health and well-being. 


How does climate change affect health? 

Climate change has many interconnected impacts on our health. Rising temperatures can lead to heatwaves and heat-related illness, like heatstroke. Changing rainfall patterns and intense storms can cause flooding that results in injury, drowning, waterborne diseases, exposure to chemical and biological hazards, and housing displacement. Changing temperatures and distribution ranges of certain mosquitoes may bring vector-borne diseases like Dengue Fever, Chikungunya and Zika virus to Hawaiʻi.  Increased air pollution and airborne allergens can impact air quality, exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD. People may also suffer from poor mental health outcomes as our communities confront the challenges and grief associated with environmental degradation and poor health outcomes caused by climate change. Please see here for more information about each aspect of public health impacted by climate change. Visit the CDC or the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Climate and Health Assessment for a more detailed analysis of each climate impact on human health.


Who are most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change? 

Individuals with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly, and children are most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change. Elderly individuals may also have pre-existing health conditions that can be exacerbated by climate change. It may be more challenging for them to readily evacuate or access necessary medical care during an extreme weather event. The elderly also often have reduced ability to thermoregulate their body temperature, compared to younger adults, making them more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Children breathe in and ingest more environmental pollutants relative to their smaller overall body size which makes them more vulnerable to poor air quality and contaminants.  

Low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities are especially vulnerable because they often have less access to adequate healthcare, housing, and resources to recover from the household costs of extreme weather events. LMI communities often live in areas across Hawai’i that are already experiencing the worst effects of climate change, such as coastline and rural communities, further increasing these vulnerabilities. Systemic failures in our state and country means that there is often overlap between low income and Native Hawaiian, racial and ethnic minorities, and marginalized groups. It is important that all climate adaptation measures taken by the State of Hawai’i reduce these existing inequities and be guided by those communities most impacted by our changing climate. 


What is the State doing to protect public health from the impacts of climate change? 

Hawaiʻi has been a national and regional leader in the fight against climate change; however, a lot of work still needs to be done to improve our health systems to be more resilient to the effects of climate change. Please see here for a timeline of State progress specifically on climate change and public health. 


What can I (or my community) do to prepare for the health impacts of climate change? 

Stay informed and connected to your community. By keeping up to date with the latest local climate projections, health advisories, and emergency preparedness plans, you and your community can best understand specific climate change and health risks and take the appropriate actions to protect yourselves. For example, you can develop a household emergency plan that considers climate-related hazards such as storms, flooding, or extreme heat. Create emergency supply kits, build communication networks with your neighbors, and know evacuation routes and emergency shelters if needed.  

Identify individuals within your family and community that may be more vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, such as the elderly, children, and individuals with pre-existing health conditions.  

Work with your local healthcare providers and community organizations to ensure that their systems are preparing for climate-related health risks. This could involve training healthcare providers about Hawai‘i’s public health vulnerabilities to climate change, strengthening surveillance systems for climate-related illnesses, and promoting climate change and public health information campaigns.   

Advocate for policy change at all levels of government that promote climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts to limit the impacts on public health.  


Is climate change affecting Hawaiʻi’s public health now or is this a problem for the future?

Climate change is already affecting Hawaiʻi and is projected to significantly worsen over the coming decades. An increase in extreme storms has led to injuries and health impacts from flooding. Temperatures are increasing and trade winds are decreasing, causing heat related illness and more days with poor air quality.


What can healthcare providers do to inform and protect their patients of the health impacts of climate change? 

Healthcare providers are well situated to help their patients understand the health risks from climate change and prepare to prevent these impacts.  Healthcare providers should educate themselves about the health impacts of climate change and talk about these issues with their patients. Healthcare providers can access specifically designed resources about climate change and health through Harvard’s C-Change Program or Yale’s Center on Climate Change and Health, in addition to other continuing education programs centered on climate change and health. By staying aware of these developing issues, healthcare providers can help prevent and identify novel, or unusual, health conditions brought about by climate change. Please see here for additional resources for healthcare professionals. 


Could climate change cause future pandemics? 

There are connections between climate change and infectious diseases. As temperatures and rainfall patterns change, animals will migrate to more habitable areas and potentially be exposed to humans or other animals not native to their original environments. These new exposures could possibly facilitate the transmission of diseases across species and into humans, resulting in widespread epidemics or pandemics of diseases that our immune systems have no experience fighting. Similarly, climate change is predicted to influence the spread of insect vectors that carry known diseases, like malaria or dengue fever, bringing these health impacts to even more population areas.