This is Chapter 15 of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.
Lead Authors: Jim Berner, Christopher Furgal; Contributing Authors: Peter Bjerregaard, Mike Bradley, Tine Curtis, Edward De Fabo, Juhani Hassi, William Keatinge, Siv Kvernmo, Simo Nayha, Hannu Rintamaki, John Warren.
The nature of projected climate-related changes and variability, and the characteristics of arctic populations, means that impacts of climate change on the health of arctic residents will vary considerably depending on such factors as age, gender, socio-economic status, lifestyle, culture, location, and the capacity of local health infrastructure and systems to adapt. It is more likely that populations living in close association with the land, in remote communities, and those that already face a variety of health-related challenges will be most vulnerable to future climate changes. Health status in many arctic regions has changed significantly over the past decades and the climate, weather, and environment have played, and will continue to play a significant role in the health of residents in these regions.
Direct health impacts may result from changes in the incidence of extreme events (avalanches, storms, floods, rockslides) which have the potential to increase the numbers of deaths and injuries each year. Direct impacts of winter warming in some regions may include a reduction in cold-induced injuries such as frostbite and hypothermia and a reduction in cold stress. As death rates are higher in winter than summer, milder winters in some regions could reduce the number of deaths. Direct negative impacts of warming could include increased heat stress in summer and accidents associated with unpredictable ice and weather conditions. Indirect impacts may include increased mental and social stress related to changes in the environment and lifestyle, potential changes in bacterial and viral proliferation, vector-borne disease outbreaks, and changes in access to good quality drinking water sources. Also, some regions may experience a change in the rates of illnesses resulting from impacts on sanitation infrastructure. Impacts on food security through changes in animal distribution and accessibility have the potential for significant impacts on health as shifts from a traditional diet to a more “western” diet are known to be associated with increased risk of cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation among arctic residents has the potential to affect the response of the immune system to disease, and to influence the development of skin cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as the development of cataracts. However, as the current incidence rates for many of these ailments are low in small arctic communities it is difficult to detect, let alone predict, any trends in their future incidence.The presence of environmental contaminants threatens the safety of traditional food systems, which are often the central fabric of communities. The projected warming scenarios will affect the transport, distribution, and behavior of environmental contaminants and thus human exposure to these substances in northern regions.
These changes are all taking place within the context of cultural and socio-economic change and evolution.They therefore represent another of many sources of stress on societies and cultures as they affect the relationship between people and their environment, which is a defining element of many northern cultures.Through potential increases in factors influencing acculturative stress and mental health, climate-related changes may further stress communities and individual psychosocial health. Communities must be prepared to identify, document, and monitor changes in their area in order to adapt to shifts in their local environment.The basis of this understanding is the ability to collect, organize, and understand information indicative of the changes taking place and their potential impacts. A series of community indicators are proposed to support this development of monitoring and decision-making ability within northern regions and communities.
Chapter 15: Human Health
15.2. Socio-cultural conditions, health status, and demography
15.3. Potential impacts of direct mechanisms of climate change on human health
15.4. Potential impacts of indirect mechanisms of climate change on human health
15.5. Environmental change and social, cultural, and mental health
15.6. Developing a community response to climate change and health
15.7. Conclusions and recommendations