Academics, News

Thiede Discusses Impacts of Climate Change on Health

Recent research has demonstrated that the global impacts of climate change on human health stem from pressing systemic issues, according to Brian Thiede, associate professor of Rural Sociology, Sociology, and Demography at Pennsylvania State University. 

“Our evidence both confirms many of the concerns about climate change undermining health, [and] changing migration, but it also underscores the complex and very uneven nature of these impacts and challenges some of these conventional narratives,” Thiede said. 

The Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society of Boston College hosted Thiede in a lecture titled “Climate Change and Health: Lessons from ‘Big Microdata’” as a part of the Health + Climate Speaker Series. 

“My research broadly aims to document the effects of changing temperature and precipitation on population health and determinants of health,” Thiede said. “We’re doing this work, not viewing it as kind of the final answer, but as one piece of empirical evidence within a broader ecosystem of research.”

Thiede said a key part of his research is his compilation of “big microdata,” which he said provides a richer understanding of populations within certain regions and allows for cross-comparison.

“By micro data, I mean individual level records of people’s health and demographic outcomes that tend to come from censuses that are nationally representative surveys,” Thiede said. “By big, I mean, taking an approach that harmonizes or combines microdata from many censuses and surveys over time.”

According to Thiede, his research shows that climate stress has a disproportionate effect on women and children globally.

“Climate stress tends to increase undernutrition among women and children globally, tends to increase birth rates, and it tends to change patterns of migration,” Thiede said. “Exposure to heat stress is likely to undermine women’s health, increase their migration, or displace them and reduce their reproductive autonomy.”

While previous research demonstrated that climate-related stressors tend to produce climate refugees, these stressors also have the potential to reduce migration, Thiede said.

“Many headlines suggest that climate change around the world [is] leading to what you might hear referred to as climate refugees,” Thiede said. “This is a distinct possibility, and in many locations there’s also quite a bit of scientific research that shows that climate shocks and associated socioeconomic stressors can actually reduce migration.”

Thiede said migration is important among people ages 15–40 because their migration plays a key role in the labor market. Additionally, an inability to migrate has the potential to jeopardize the health of some individuals, he said. 

“People are trapped in places where there are potentially challenging environmental circumstances, and the potential inability to migrate could make them more at risk than if they were able to move,” Thiede said. 

According to Thiede, the impacts of climate variability across countries for reasons like gender inequality extend beyond the realm of academic research into the world of public policy.

“This is a topic that’s received quite a lot of attention [and], in some cases, motivated really dire predictions, stoked nativist sentiments, and raised all types of policy programs,” he said.

March 14, 2024