Friday, February 29, 2008

This week in climate change: News from around the world

With climate change established as a global issue, it’s no surprise that much of the news on the topic focuses on what different nations are doing to tackle the issue.

Among the news stories on different approaches to climate change around the world reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How are you addressing climate change? Share your ideas!

In the months leading up to National Public Health Week, influential public health experts, climate change experts, and representatives of vulnerable populations will work together to develop a list of key recommendations for planning for and managing the health impacts of climate change. The Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance: A Charge for Public Health and the Public white paper highlights the innovative ways individuals, families and communities around the country are addressing climate change and how policy-makers are moving forward with proposals that support healthy communities and climate.

There are public health professionals around the country already implementing groundbreaking strategies to respond to and prevent the potentially devastating impacts of climate change. Others are in the trenches, tackling public health problems day-in-and-day-out without recognizing that many of them are directly related to climate change.


Is your community taking innovative steps to get ready for heat waves or hurricanes? Or have you started to drive less and walk more – which is healthier for the climate, and for you? Post a comment below to share your good ideas and recommendations about everyday steps we can all take make our planet healthier!

Consider the following questions:
  • What actions are you taking to reduce your contribution to climate change and to help your family live a healthier lifestyle?
  • What innovative measures are already being implemented by communities to protect kids, the sick, underserved communities and the elderly – and how do you bring them to your community?
  • What strategies are being spearheaded by public health professionals to address or prevent the biggest threats of all?
Your ideas, recommendations and insight will provide invaluable guidance throughout National Public Health Week 2008 and beyond. Together we can work to improve the health of our families and communities, while also creating a healthier planet.

No child left behind

Our children of today and those of the future will inevitably face the most severe realities of the health impacts from global climate change. As a result of their cognitive, physical and physiological development patterns, children are more susceptible to adverse health effects from exposure to environmental hazards. We know that climate change has begun and is accelerating at a great pace, increasing the disproportionate rate at which children, compared to other groups, will suffer from these changes. Being that children are dependent on the rest of us to take care of and protect them, their ability to adjust to the many changes ahead should remain our top concern.

However, even if the average American is able to successfully make the linkage between environmental hazards and health, I have found that the real and vital implications that global climate change will have upon children are frequently left out of the many discussions, forums and conferences. Part of this disconnect is due to the fact that key leaders in the pediatric environmental health community are not actively sought out to be a part of the dialogue. We do not hear or read about climatologists talking with pediatric environmental health researchers in an effort to unify their social and policy recommendations. Policy solutions are being debated without the vital inclusion of core advocates for children’s health — and this is a mistake.

We in the public health community have a few challenges before us in this area. First, I believe most Americans are still trying to wrap their hands around the concept of global climate change and how it has come to be. Second, while I feel this number is diminishing, we are still dealing with those that believe climate change is either not real or so beyond our control that steps toward sustainability are useless. Third, the messaging around individual responsibility remains key in addressing disease prevention and in working toward environmental sustainability.

The time is now and each of us shares a role in meeting these challenges head on, while ensuring that children’s health protection does not continue to get lost in the efforts to reduce the effects of global climate change.

Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, MPH
Executive Director
Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN)

Friday, February 22, 2008

This week in climate change: Thinking outside of the box

With global agreement on the seriousness of greenhouse gas emissions, people around the world are starting to think outside of the box about ways to approach the issue. Several news stories this week reported on science and strategy being combined to explore different ways to deal with CO2.

Among the news stories on novel approaches to climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Don’t wait! Act now! (Supplies are plentiful)

National Public Health Week 2008 plans are well underway!

At the end of January, APHA hosted a planning meeting of public health partners and allies to discuss how everyone can help bring the connections between health and climate change to the forefront of discussions. During the meeting, APHA presented plans for the week and strategized with attendees about ideas for activities and ways to spread the word. With more than 70 people involved in the meeting, it was a great launch to the NPHW campaign.

To keep the momentum going, APHA will convene a virtual summit on March 4 (a great way to reduce the Association’s carbon footprint!). Specifically chosen for their areas of knowledge, invitees range from public health experts, climatologists and environmental scientists, to faith community advocates and representatives from vulnerable populations. We will also be soliciting input from the public, so check back at the blog in coming days. Through the summit, APHA will produce a consensus document highlighting key recommendations for adapting to and lessening the health impacts of climate change. Partners and others committed to addressing climate change will be asked to sign on to the document, which will be officially released during NPHW.

To help local communities get involved and plan their own events, the NPHW toolkit and planning materials will be released on March 1. Check back then to download the toolkit, which will include fact sheets, media outreach materials, suggested community events and much more.

You can also get involved by signing up to be a NPHW partner (there are already more than 100 partners from around the country — a number that grows daily!) and spreading the word about your NPHW events by posting them to our online calendar. You can also link to the NPHW website to help get the word out. And don’t forget to download the “Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance” logos and include them in your own newsletters, Web sites and other promotional materials.

We look forward to working with you all to make the connection between climate change and our health!

Have an idea or a suggestion for NPHW? Post your comment below.

Friday, February 15, 2008

This week in climate change: Nations plan for the future

With a late 2009 deadline for a landmark new treaty to cut greenhouse gases once the current Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, meetings are taking place around the world to continue the discussion that began in December in Bali.

Among the news stories from climate meetings occurring around the globe reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Home, sweet green home

The buildings we spend most of our time in — our homes, work places...the handbag department at Macy’s — can bring us comfort, safety, peace. Our home, most importantly, also provides cover for all those embarrassing things we only do alone. (Like watching re-runs of really bad 80s sitcoms while wearing shredded pajama pants and eating crunchy peanut butter straight from the jar.) But even though a building may be a comfort zone for us, it could be a disaster zone for the environment.

Commonly known as part of our “built environment,” the way homes and workplaces are constructed — and what they’re constructed with — can have positive or negative impacts on the environment. And when our environment is impacted, whether it be by a building contributing to climate change or simply by encroaching on a highly used sidewalk, then so is our health.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 70 percent of U.S. electricity use and almost 40 percent of energy consumption, use more than 12 percent of all drinkable water, eat up 40 percent of raw materials and account for 38 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Luckily, there is a way to remain harmonious with nature and not live in a treehouse: green building.

Green building means paying attention to how a structure can be energy efficient, using environmentally friendly building materials — as well as trying to recycle construction and demolition debris — and making sure the building doesn’t contribute to polluting nearby water sources. For example, transforming the rooftop at your workplace into a lush garden space means that instead of contributing to the untreated stormwater that can overwhelm local water reservoirs, the rainwater is absorbed into and filtered by your newly planted greenery. Heating and cooling your home efficiently by changing your air filter regularly and installing a programmable thermostat or replacing old systems with Energy Star-qualified equipment can also reduce your energy use. Of course, building green also means designing communities that aren’t completely dependent on cars to get around, which means more walking (and more much-needed physical activity) and less greenhouse gas emissions.

More good news is that green building not only makes you a proud homeowner, it can make you a richer homeowner too by saving you dollars on long-term operating costs.

Green house. Green wallet. Making your neighbors green with envy.

For more tips on making your home or workplace green, visit EPA’s Green Buildings or the U.S. Green Building Council.

Friday, February 8, 2008

This week in climate change: Communities thinking green

With the scientific community in agreement that human activity is playing a role in climate change, people around the world are looking for ways to make a difference. Changes are happening at all levels — from individuals changing their behaviors, to nations enacting policies to reduce energy use, to different sectors of society re-examining how they do business.

Among the news stories of the different strategies people are thinking about to deal with climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Climate Wars: Episode One

What will happen when the rivers and lakes dry up in a region and there isn’t enough clean water to go around? What will happen when glaciers have melted away and crops to the south shrivel and die because the lack of runoff has made the earth too dry for them to grow? What will happen when rising sea levels force people to move away from their coastal homes?

Sadly, the likely answer is war.

A recent report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change warns world leaders that climate change could increase tensions and cause conflicts around the globe, much of it stemming from worsening water and food shortages. This, in turn, would lead to environmental refugees who must search to find new places to live.

And because of a lack of infrastructure, stability and resources, the developing world is most at risk for such climate-related conflict. In fact, many experts view climate change as a "threat multiplier." It is likely to intensify instability around the world by aggravating water shortages, food insecurity, disease and flooding — all things that lead to forced migration.

This is alarming because, as noted in the report, many of the worst effects of climate change are expected in regions where fragile governments are least capable of responding to them.

The German report points out several areas of potential climate conflict.

  • Africa's Sahel region: Climate change is expected to result in water scarcities, drought and crop failures. This situation would worsen tensions in a region already burdened by failing governments and civil wars, such as the situation in Sudan.
  • The Indian subcontinent: Shrinking glaciers threaten vital water supplies, while changes to the monsoon season will affect agriculture and rising seas threaten millions of people living in coastal settlements. Waves of hungry refugees would only increase conflict in an area where there is already tension and instability.
  • The Caribbean and Central America: More powerful hurricanes could overwhelm government capacities in impoverished island states and Central American nations.

But there is hope in the midst of these dire predictions. The potential for conflict only emphasizes the urgent need for a united global approach to climate change. Rather than allow climate change to tear us apart, we can use it as an issue over which to unite, coordinate and develop solutions for a healthier and more peaceful future.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The more, the merrier

This week, more than 50 national partners gathered at APHA headquarters to kick off planning for National Public Health Week (NPHW). We are excited that this year’s theme, “Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance,” has inspired so many respected and diverse organizations to join us. Some of the great partners at the table include the American Meteorological Society, the National Governors Association, the Energy Programs Consortium, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Trust for America’s Health.

With so many key partners involved, this year is shaping up to be a great success! Public health professionals and partners who attended are ready to build upon activities during NPHW to raise awareness about the connection between health and climate change. To help us all better understand how climate change impacts health, APHA and other NPHW partners are developing fact sheets that will soon be posted on the NPHW Web site.

During NPHW, events will be held all across the nation that people can participate in as they strive to be a part of the solution. Several partners already have plans underway for activities: folks at Safe Routes to School are planning to promote walking and biking for short trips, while the Association of Schools of Public Health is challenging students to develop a campaign that raises awareness about public health in our daily lives.

Other organizations are hard at work to raise awareness among elected officials. The Children’s Environmental Health Network and the National Energy Assistance Directors Association are working to highlight the ways that climate change will disproportionately impact children and low-income families.

Our public health system, including the many talented professionals that make it work, will play an essential role in addressing and facing the health issues associated with climate change. That’s why it is important for us all to get involved and do our part. Take advantage of the activities happening from coast to coast during NPHW to learn more and to share what you learn with others.

Sign up to be a NPHW partner today!

This week in climate change: International solutions to a global issue

With U.S. hosted climate talks involving the world’s biggest polluters underway in Honolulu throughout the week, much of this week’s news focused on what different nations are committing to do to address climate change. Several stories also reported on what nations are calling on others to do.

Among the news stories on approaches to climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines: