The health impacts of global climate change have long been a focus of discussion for researchers and policy-makers. In recent years the number of studies and reports on the theme has risen significantly, as reflected in the extended list of citations in the human health chapter of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report (Confalonieri et al., 2007). Most of the analysis to date has concentrated on the epidemiological dimensions of disease and climate, investigating how climatic trends may alter the distribution, prevalence and health burden of diseases, and assessing how changes in extreme weather events and associated hazards may impact on health (for recent overviews see McMichael et al., 2003; Epstein and Mills, 2005; Watson et al., 2005). Increasingly, however, this work has begun to broaden and stimulate debate in the public health arena, with investigation extending to responses by individuals, communities and health system institutions. Within this mounting body of work, there has been an increasing movement towards a public health agenda for adaptation (for example Grambsch and Menne, 2003; Füssel and Klein, 2004; Ebi et al., 2005; Menne and Ebi, 2006). Yet, despite this progress, there remain surprisingly few empirical studies that concentrate on the intersection between climatic hazards, health, vulnerability and behaviour (Matthies et al., 2003; Few, 2007).
This chapter discusses a novel interdisciplinary approach to understanding the vulnerability of individuals to the effects of climate change and variability.