Friday, April 22, is Earth Day, which is billed as the world’s largest environmental health movement. In today’s guest post, Victoria Bortfeld, MPH, APHA’s environmental health program manager, and Evelyn Maldonado, program associate for APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity, discuss environmental justice, reducing health inequities and how we all can invest in our planet.

Maldonado: Earth Day is such a special date because it reminds us of the importance of coming together and being the voice for the environment. For me, it’s a day where I thank Mother Earth for everything it provides for us, and I also look for ways to be a better steward of our planet. What does Earth Day mean to you?

Bortfeld: Similarly, Earth Day is a time for me to reflect on and celebrate the environment around me and to think about ways that my community and I can advocate for environmental protections. Earth Day, Invest in Our Planet

With this year’s Earth Day theme, “Invest in Our Planet,’” the focus is on combating climate change through investment in sustainable business practices and a renewable economy. It’s critical to consider the health and justice impacts of climate change in this conversation, and to center equity in these actions that work to protect our environment.

Maldonado: Definitely! We know that climate change poses one of the most significant public health threats today and disproportionately impacts communities of color and of lower income. One way to invest in our planet is by looking at a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Did you know that increased pollutants from industrial activity worsen our air quality, putting our health at risk? 

Bortfeld: And also, higher temperatures lead to an increase in allergies and harmful air pollutants.

Maldonado: Which is why it’s so important to talk about energy justice — the principle that all people should have reliable, safe, affordable sources of energy and that the costs and benefits of energy services should be fairly disseminated. It contributes to more representative energy decision-making across the board. By focusing on energy justice, we can address both climate change and health inequities.

Bortfeld: Absolutely. And energy justice also relates to environmental justice, right? Environmental justice is increasingly being prioritized within state and national agendas but needs even more action in light of the climate change impacts you mentioned. Environmental justice communities — which are often made up of marginalized racial and ethnic populations, as well as low-income and rural people — are in areas that experience disproportionate burdens from environmental exposures and damaging land uses, among other issues, leading to health disparities. Climate change exacerbates these burdens and further threatens the health and well-being of such communities. 

Maldonado: And ultimately, all communities! 

Bortfeld: Exactly. Investing in our planet and investing in our environment should also mean investing equitably in our people and in our health.

Maldonado: I like that! And there are many ways that we, as individuals, can do this. Here’s a list of action items to get you started:

  • Add your name to a petition calling on U.S. leaders to produce legislation that will help the U.S. transition to a clean energy economy and low-carbon future, or one that calls for climate and environmental literacy education.
  • Support businesses that consider environmental impacts and sustainability in their practices and investments.
  • Urge members of Congress to support actions to protect public health from the impacts of climate change.
  • Advocate for climate and health by sharing your story through APHA’s Tiny Climate Chronicles.
  • Promote climate and health education, such as through youth curriculum.
  • If you’re a student looking to engage your campus community on climate justice, apply for APHA’s Student Champions for Climate Justice Awards

You can also check out APHA’s fact sheets on energy justice, environmental justice and health equity and learn about further actions you can take. Let’s come together to drive change toward a clean and just environment!