APHA has declared 2017 the Year of Climate Change and Health, a yearlong initiative to raise awareness of the health impacts of climate change and to mobilize action. Each month will focus on a different aspect of climate change as it relates to health. APHA’s Surili Sutaria Patel outlines February’s theme of climate justice and highlights opportunities to get involved.
With the goal of creating the healthiest nation in a generation, the American Public Health Association recognizes that we need to take immediate action to reduce or prevent health threats of climate change. And if we are to improve the lives of communities, we must give everyone the opportunity to attain their highest level of health. After all, without our health, what do we have? Without a safe and healthy environment to pass to our children, what will they have?
This is why APHA has declared 2017 as the Year of Climate Change and Health to raise awareness and build a movement toward healthy climate solutions. Each month, we will highlight a different issue related to the intersection of climate change and health, in concert with our partners. This month, we’re spotlighting climate justice and health.
What is climate justice? And how does it relate to health?
Certain groups, like children, the elderly, the underserved and minority communities, are less climate resilient and therefore more vulnerable to negative health effects of climate change. For example, children are not just small adults; their bodies are still developing. They also take in more air per pound, and if that air is of poor quality, it can pose increased threats to their health. In addition, climate change can increase the duration of allergy season. This change is particularly difficult for children with asthma and/or allergies, often resulting in increased school absences and hospitalizations. Children are also more vulnerable to injury in severe weather, another risk that is more common because of climate change.
The elderly suffer the most in extreme heat, with illness and death related to heat highest among those ages 65 and older. Senior citizens are more likely to have mobility issues, making it difficult for them to relocate in times of danger including flooding, wildfires and superstorms. This puts them at increased risk of injury and death. The elderly are also more likely to have chronic diseases that render them additionally susceptible to the health impacts of climate change including heart disease and respiratory illness. This is especially alarming as Baby Boomers continue to age, putting a larger population at increased vulnerability to the adverse health effects of climate change.
” Humans need clean air, clean water, safe shelter, healthy food, and a stable climate for our very survival. We cannot have healthy people without healthy places, on a healthy planet. “Public health professionals must join our efforts to achieve health equity with the global fight for environmental and climate justice. The time for action is now — our health is at stake..”
— Linda Rudolph, director
Center for Climate Change and Public Health, Public Health Institute
In low-income communities, less access to medical care and resources unequivocally impedes resilience to combat the health impacts of extreme heat, poor air, vector-borne diseases and other climate effects. These communities of color do not fare as well in extreme heat or cold due to problems including poor ventilation or lack of access to air conditioning or heat. An added challenge is the accessibility of information and communication of warnings for low-income communities.
Extreme heat or high allergy days inequitably impact communities of color where there is a greater prevalence of chronic diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Coupled with discrimination, this population bears added risk. This uneven burden of climate change is, by definition, climate injustice.
To quote the great Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That is especially true in regards to climate change, as no one is unsusceptible to its related health effects. Therefore, we must explore our vulnerabilities and the most vulnerable populations to determine the best steps to promote health in a changing climate. Climate justice requires ensuring fair treatment of all people, regardless of race, gender and socioeconomic status, in creating policies and practices to address climate change.
By providing resources and assistance to communities that need it most, we can create healthy environments across all places. Yet this can only be achieved in concert with sound science and informed policy. Let’s work together to make sure both the best science and policies that address climate injustice are in every conversation about climate change solutions.
How can you get involved in the Year of Climate Change and Health?
There are many ways to get involved. Here are just a few:
- Share your climate change and environmental justice resources with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Attend and promote climate change and health events as they become announced; and
- Get out in your community to raise awareness of the connections between climate change and health.
The year will culminate with APHA’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo in November in Atlanta, which will have a theme of climate change and health.