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Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems

February 22, 2010

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3.1.1 Purpose

Human settlements are where people live and work, including all population centers ranging from small rural communities to densely developed metropolitan areas. This chapter addresses climate change impacts, both positive and negative, on human settlements in the United States. First, the chapter summarizes current knowledge about the vulnerability of human settlements to climate change, in a context of concurrent changes in other nonclimate factors. Next, the chapter summarizes opportunities within settlements for adaptation to climate change. Finally, the chapter provides an overview of recommendations for expanding the current knowledge base with respect to climate change and human settlements.


 1. Effects on health. It is well-established that higher temperatures in urban areas are related to higher levels of ozone, which cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems. There is also some evidence that combined effects of heat stress and air pollution may be greater than simple additive effects (Patz and Balbus, 2001). Moreover, historical data show relationships between mortality and temperature extremes (Rozenzweig and Solecki, 2001a). Other health concerns include changes in exposure to water and food-borne diseases, vector-borne diseases, concentrations of plant species associated with allergies, and exposures to extreme weather events such as storms, floods, and fires (see Chapter 2).


3.3.3 Examples of Current Adaptation Strategies

In most cases in the United States, settlements have been more active in climate change mitigation than climate change adaptation (see Box 3.5), but there are some indications that adaptation is growing as a subject of interest (Solecki and Rosenzweig, 2005; Ruth, 2006). Bottom-up grassroots activities currently under way in the United States are considerable, and that number appears to be growing. For example, Boston has built a new wastewater treatment plant at least one-half meter higher than currently necessary to cope with sea level rise, and in a coastal flood protection plan for a site north of Boston the U.S. Corps of Engineers incorporated sea level rise into their analysis (Easterling et al., 2004). California is considering climate change adaptation strategies as a part of its more comprehensive attention to climate changepolicies (Franco, 2005), and Alaska is already pursuing ways to adapt to permafrost meltingand other climate change effects. 

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