Human Dimensions of Global Warming

Lesson 6: Impacts on People


Human Health, Food, and Water

I'm going to tell you a secret about climate change. It was never about the polar bears.

Polar bear with snow on his muzzle, looking directly into the camera
Why yes, climate change brings huge negative consequences for me, the iconic polar bear.  But humans, you are not immune to the impacts of the climate crisis either.

What do I mean by that? Often, it seems the messaging around the urgency to act on climate change gets lost in photos of forlorn-looking polar bears drifting on chunks of ice.  Save the polar bears!!!  The ice is melting and the polar bears will die.  And, certainly polar bears are vulnerable to climate change (see this WWF Polar Bears and Climate Change Assessment). But, my point is that we've been focusing on the wrong messaging about why we should care about climate change.  While I don't like the idea of polar bears, or any species, experiencing negative impacts of a changing climate, I might not be inspired to act save polar bears because they feel kind of distant to me.  Quite simply, we never should have made polar bears the unofficial mascots of climate action when ultimately, solving the climate crisis is something we need to do for our own well-being as a species.

If there's one thing we can say about humans, it's that we're inherently selfish (it's an evolutionary necessity in some ways).  If we focus our climate change messaging on impacts that we feel much, much closer to home, we might just be able to inspire action.  (And here, 'action' denotes not only action to address the causes of climate change but also action to respond to these possibly dangerous impacts.)  So, for this week, we'll set our affinity for the fluffy white polar bears aside and worry about what climate change is already doing to people.

What will we learn?

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • define the direct  and indirect impacts of climate change on human health and discuss types and examples;
  • identify and discuss factors beyond climate change that are fundamental to the good health of an individual and a society;
  • explain the stressors of a changing climate on food security at various geographic scales;
  • evaluate the interconnected nature of food security, climate change, population growth, and development;
  • describe the impacts of climate change on water quantity and water quality.

Complete the following steps to complete Lesson 6:

This lesson will take us one week to complete. Please refer to the Calendar in Canvas for specific timeframes and due dates. Specific directions for the assignments below can be found within this lesson.

  • Work through Lesson 6 content on this website.
  • Read the required reading assignments.
  • Take the Lesson 6 Content Quiz.
  • Write your Write to Learn response.


If you have questions, please feel free to post them to the corresponding discussion forum in Canvas.