Climate Change

An atmospheric river has drenched California with heavy rain and mountain snow this week, triggering flash floods, mudslides, and winter storm warnings in the Sierra Nevada.

What is climate change?

The temperature of the Earth’s surface has been rising by .36 °F per decade since the 1970s. Extreme weather events caused by a warming climate will result in dramatic changes in agriculture as we know it over the next 50 years, including an increase in annual heat waves, a longer wildfire season with greater intensity fires, and more severe episodes of flooding and drought.

How does this affect the health and safety of agricultural workers?

Extreme weather requires changes in farm management, crop and livestock practices, and farmworker health and safety measures. Research is beginning to address how changing weather patterns will impact human health in general, but there is little information on how it will affect the health and safety of farmers, farmworkers, and agricultural communities.

Some extreme weather considerations may be related to:

  • Heat
  • Those who work outdoors are more likely to be exposed to hotter temperatures.
  • Drought
  • Changes in precipitation could contribute to longer periods of drought, resulting in water scarcity and changes in crop management, which can result in changes to working conditions, processes, and procedures. Periods of drought also result in more frequent and severe wildfires, which pose a threat to respiratory health and may result in crop damages and economic costs.
  • Flooding
  • Severe rains and flooding impact working conditions and may require changes in farm management, crop, and livestock practices.
  • Exposure to Airborne Particles (dust, pollution, smoke, pesticides)
  • Dust resulting from desertification in dry climates, increased pesticide use, and smoke from more frequent and severe wildfires and the chemicals used to fight them can result in greater exposure of workers and communities to hazardous air quality.
  • Increase in Pathogens
  • Warming temperatures can alter the distribution of vector-borne diseases and agricultural workers may face increased exposure to pathogens including West Nile virus, Valley Fever, and others.
  • Mental Health and the Economy
  • Communities are likely to be affected by the economic impact of severe weather, which can threaten job security and mental health of farmers, farmworkers, their families, and agricultural communities.

How is WCAHS addressing these issues?

WCAHS investigators are assessing what is currently known about the health and safety effects of the impact of extreme weather on the environment, with a focus on research and the perceptions of farmers, agricultural workers, and the surrounding communities.

Researchers are conducting focus groups and key informant interviews to engage farm communities, regulators, and other stakeholders to contribute their collective knowledge and experience regarding extreme weather challenges. Findings will be used to develop educational programs tailored to the agricultural community to increase awareness of preventative practices to reduce the health risks associated with a changing climate.

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