Global Health Action in the Face of Climate Change
Since the start of the 21st Century, climate change has gained significant traction in being recognized as a prominent, worldwide threat. The wide array of expected environmental impacts will result in food and water shortages, increased displacement, and higher rates of disease worldwide, all of which will have pronounced effects on global health. In this conversation, participants from around the world together with New Tactics in Human Rights discussed the various challenges of combatting the relationship between climate change and health, how to best form partnerships in order to mitigate, and successful tactics that can be utilized in order to result in a more promising, heathier future.
Competition between the health agenda and other involved industries has proven to be a significant challenge in mitigating climate change. The energy, agricultural, and economic sectors are often viewed as the most prominent actors on the issue. For example, while the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris did designate a day to be focused on health, the sector was still not included or acknowledged in the conference’s mainstream negotiations the way that other key areas were. Health needs to be acknowledged as a gauge and indicator for climate change, rather than solely as a subsequent effect. Engaging people by establishing the relationship between climate change, health, and economics is also an ongoing challenge. Conservation is often viewed as an effective way to increase efficiency, cutting down on energy resources and cost. However, this tactic is also often linked to ill-informed ideas about diminishing quality of healthcare; thus it can be difficult to garner public support. Energy poverty in many countries continues to delay progress in mitigating climate change, seeing as fossil fuels are often advertised as an inexpensive energy option compared to the long-term investments of solar or wind turbines. This is especially prevalent in regards to the subsidies and legal environmental aid provided to the coal industry which greatly reduces its cost, as well as the portion of their taxes that combat coal-related health effects, encouraging the cycle to continue. The constant fight against reliance on fossil fuels continues to be a struggle, even within the health sector. By completely moving away from fossil fuels, the health industry will be positively mitigating climate change, resulting in fewer incidents that reinforce the issue’s relationship with global health.
There is a significant lack of clarity in the communication of climate change and its impact on health. Actors are constantly attempting to manage the message of climate change, and convey the issues that are most crucial to their own goals. The conversation surrounding the topic is constantly dominated by complex scientific terms. Western science consistently tends to act as the main filter dictating the conversation; this limited view constantly drowns out significant evidence and efforts initiated in other regions. Local information is an important gauge relaying how climate change has progressed at various levels. Climate change tends to unequally affect lower income frontline communities, such as social minorities, farmers, marine communities, and indigenous peoples; environmental effects on health are most immediately and intensely felt within these regions. Encouraging community dialogues and addressing the issue on a grassroots level could promote a more cohesive understanding of the issue at hand. One participant referenced psychological research which indicated that a majority 70% of the public maintains an evolving, pliant view of climate change; effectively conveying information about other affected sectors, such as health, could sway this middle group’s view. Furthermore, the delay in climate change's effects tends to hinder the promptness of the conversations taking place. Many people don’t recognize the relationship between climate change and health, simply because the effects have not been felt yet. By efficiently communicating the severity of these impending effects to the public, the health sector, and environmental regulators, the conversation surrounding climate change and health could be much more stimulating.
Establishing diverse, respectful partnerships across various social sectors is a strategic way to convey the correlation between health and climate change on a broader scale. While it is vital that there is mutual understanding as to the collaboration’s values and goals, it can be beneficial for partners to have different priorities; this lends to a variety of viewpoints on any given issue, which can stimulate more diversified conversations. The creation of non-traditional, heterogeneous partnerships can significantly advance the joint agenda; these could include collaborations between academic organizations, representatives from industry, other non-governmental organizations, as well as experts of environmental science, law, policy, and health professionals. Additionally, the various experts should be encouraged to become part of community groups and NGO’s fighting for climate change, as opposed to merely remaining outside advisors. While it is important that these relationships remain equal and horizontal, there should be clarity about each actor’s roles within the group, as well as a framework of responsibility in order to disrupt any potential power structures.
One conversation leader referenced a coalition of conservative, influential professional health bodies, which utilizes one particular method they have proved to be successful. After developing a strong membership, this coalition would encourage its members to run for the boards of their various organizations, and campaign rigorously for them. Once the members were elected, they would initiate conversations about climate change within their respected governance structures. This is one example of successfully infiltrating the government of various social groups and organizations, and amending their agendas to address climate change and health. Other options to build successful partnerships are holding roundtable discussions featuring the various stakeholders, as well as creating the space for small-scale community dialogues. The Healthy Hospital Initiative was referenced as one successful example of a partnership between like-minded organizations in the healthcare arena. The initiative was able to mitigate climate change within the involved parties’ establishments via advocating for improved energy efficiency, managing waste more sustainably, and sourcing food from local producers. The coalition grew from 12 to 1400 health systems over the course of just four years.
Success Stories & Future Vision
Organizing applied conferences on climate change and human health has been a significant, widely-used tool to engage actors on the relationship between the two issues. Examples include a day-long Continuing Medical Education (CME) course in Minnesota, as well as a summer school program on climate change and human health at the University of Otago Wellington in New Zealand. One leader referenced one alliance’s organization of two-day, multi-sector conferences, which have proved to be successful. The first day of the conferences featured various presentations, in order to educate the partakers on the facts of climate change, energy production, and their impact on health. The second day was used as a platform for the participants to meet with legislators, EPA officials, and health departments to discuss the relationship between health and climate change. These sorts of planned events convey the relationship between climate change and human health in a dynamic, useful way, giving participants the information and tools to address the issues within their own organizations.
Engaging social figures to motivate the public has been a positive tool in advocating for mitigation of climate change, as opposed to waiting for governments to act on their own. Writing to senators and representatives has been a recurrent tool used to advocate social change. Reaching out to state-based organizations and departments can be an effective tactic to address the issue at the governmental level. Incorporating health professionals on the leadership boards of climate policy projects, as well as climate experts on health related initiatives, provides a way for diverse voices to remain distinct on collaborative projects, and clearly articulate an alternate viewpoint. Physicians weighing in on public policy can be an effective tool to change policy outcomes. The use of films, establishing coalitions of organizations and crafting collaborative platforms specific to the issue at hand have all proven to be successful ways to further the agenda. Establishing diverse partnerships and utilizing a variety of tools are crucial in the continuation of promoting dialogue on climate change and global health.
- Appealing to nonprofit boards with realistic goals
- Providing voluntary communications training
- Engaging frontline communities via organized local dialogues
- Integrating climate change/health into development and global educational programs
- Emphasizing positive health benefits of climate mitigation
- Involving the youth community
- Showcasing best mitigation practices of health facilities
- Health leader's promoting the best available public health evidence
- Utilizing social media to engage global actors
- Using film to communicate health impacts of climate change
- Engaging respected health professionals as activists
- Combining partners from across multiple sectors
- Encouraging activists to run for boards of their organizations
- Meeting with politicians to voice views and concerns
- Bringing together diverse stakeholders
- Building partnerships with frontline communities
- The New Zealand Climate & Health Council’s “health call to action”
- Publicizing successful local developments and changes
- Endorsing divestment from fossil fuels
- Organizing Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses
- Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate
- Writing letters to legislators voicing concerns
- Reaching out to the media
- Establishing summer school programs on climate change and health
- Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments' multi-day conferences
- Promoting the benefits of conservation
“The Big Show” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aP9AKPkUVLE)
“Reframing climate change as a public health issue: an exploratory study of public reactions” by Maibach et. al. (http://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-10-299)
“A Survey of African American Physicians on the Health Effects of Climate Change” by M. Sarfaty et. al. (http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/12/12473)
“Global Climate Change and Human Health: From Science to Practice” by G. Luber, J. Lemery (http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118505573.html)
“Climate Change and Public Health” by B. Levy, J. Patz (https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/nyu-stories/hurricane-sandy--one-year-later.html)
“The Bliss of Ignorance” (http://theblissofignorance.net/)