Assessment of the Potential Health Impacts of Climate Change in Alaska

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Assessment of the Potential Health Impacts of Climate Change in Alaska (2018)

(This is an excellent, detailed report of the present and potential impacts of climate change on health in Alaska.)

Over the past century, the air and water temperatures in Alaska have warmed considerably faster than in the rest of the United States. Because Alaska is the only Arctic state in the Nation, Alaskans are likely to face some climate change challenges that will be different than those encountered in other states. For example, permafrost currently underlies 80% of Alaska and provides a stable foundation for the physical infrastructure of many Alaska communities. As has already been seen in numerous villages, the groundcover that overlies permafrost is vulnerable to sinking or caving if the permafrost thaws, resulting in costly damage to physical infrastructure. The reliance on subsistence resources is another contrast to many other states. Many Alaskans depend upon subsistence harvests of fish and wildlife resources for food and to support their way of life. Some Alaskans report that the changing environment has already impacted their traditional practices.

Many past efforts to characterize the potential impacts of climate change in Alaska have focused primarily on describing expected changes to the physical environment and the ecosystem, and less on describing how these changes, in addition to changes in animal and environmental health, could affect human health. Thus, a careful analysis of how climate change could affect the health of people living in Alaska is warranted. The Alaska Division of Public Health has conducted such an assessment using the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) framework; the assessment is based on the current National Climate Assessment (NCA) predictions for Alaska.

The document is intended to provide a broad overview of the potential adverse human health impacts of climate change in Alaska and to present examples of adaptation strategies for communities to consider when planning their own response efforts. This document does not present a new model for climate change in Alaska, and it does not offer a critique of the NCA predictions for Alaska.

Finally, while this assessment is focused on the potential adverse health impacts of climate change in Alaska, it is important to note that there will likely be some beneficial health impacts of climate change in Alaska as well. For example, warmer temperatures might be more conducive to a longer growing season and growing a wider range of agricultural crops, resulting in increased food security in some areas. Warmer winter temperatures might also lead to fewer injuries and fatalities related to cold temperatures.

Leave a Reply