During every climatic era Life on Earth is constrained by a limited range of climatic conditions, outside which thriving and then surviving becomes difficult. This applies at both planetary and organism (species) levels. Further, many causal influences of climate change on human health entail changes—often disruptive, sometimes irreversible—in complex system functioning. Understanding the diverse health risks from climate change, and their influence pathways, presents a challenge to environmental health researchers whose prior work has been in a more definable, specific and quantitative milieu. Extension of the research agenda and conceptual framework to assess present and future health risks from climate change may be constrained by three factors: (i) lack of historically-informed understanding of population-health sensitivity to climatic changes; (ii) an instinctual ‘epidemiologising’ tendency to choose research topics amenable to conventional epidemiological analysis and risk estimation; and (iii) under-confidence in relation to interdisciplinary collaborative scenario-based modeling of future health risks. These constraints must be recognized and remedied. And environmental researchers must argue for heightened public attention to today’s macro-environmental threats to present and future population health—emphasising the ecological dimension of these determinants of long-term health that apply to whole populations and communities, not just to individuals and social groupings.