Rudolph, Charles-Guzman at WH

APHA member Kizzy Charles-Guzman, fifth from left, speaks at a climate change awards ceremony Tuesday at the White House. Charles-Guzman and Linda Rudolph, fourth from left, were among 11 honorees for their work in climate change and public health. Photo by Daniel Greenberg

What is climate change? Laura Anderko, one of three APHA members awarded Tuesday at the White House for her public health work, answered boldly.

“For me, climate change is the single most important public health issue in the 21st century,” said Anderko, a member of APHA’s Public Health Nursing Section. “How do we help people adapt to it for future generations and for right here and now?”

The White House’s “Champions of Change” event commemorated 11 state, local and community leaders in confronting the human health impacts of the world’s changing climate. Two weeks prior, President Barack Obama released his Climate Action Plan, which outlined common-sense actions to reduce carbon pollution, calling climate change “the global threat of our time.”

Anderko, a professor at Georgetown University, has worked on environmental health issues for more than 20 years, specifically looking at health and climate indicators to track which populations are most at risk. Additionally, she works to educate nurses on how to better prepare families and communities for climate change.

Linda Rudolph of APHA’s Aging and Public Health Section, and Kizzy Charles-Guzman of APHA’s Environment Section were also awarded for their work.

Rudolph, who works for the Public Health Institute’s Center for Climate Change and Public Health, has devoted much of her career to implementing greenhouse gas reduction strategies correlative to addressing chronic disease problems. Formerly the deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, she spoke of the department’s “Health in All Policies” Task Force — the innovative approach that makes the public’s health a factor in government policymaking and planning — in a Sept. 6 APHA webinar.

Charles-Guzman is director of the Climate Change and Public Health Program at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Among her many accomplishments in helping shape the city’s environmental policy, Charles-Guzman helped form air quality and food sustainability initiatives in PlaNYC, an effort enforced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to combat climate change and enhance life quality for city residents.

One of the foremost challenges of climate change is the awareness of its impact, especially among young people. As one of the event’s spectators commented, “You can’t make change if the youths aren’t behind it.”

As a teacher at Columbia and New York Universities, Charles-Guzman agreed.

“[Teaching] is my sneaky way of indoctrinating the youth and trying to convey messages about climate change and environmental policy,” she said. “Broadly speaking, it’s to inspire young leaders to take up this work and also to get into communities, tweet every time we have a heat wave and check in on family and friends and elderly members of their community. I’ve found that for public health messages, if we can share them with youth, they make it out there.”

Note: This post was updated on July 15, 2013.