During its Annual Meeting & Expo last fall, the American Public Health Association and Climate for Health’s parent organization, ecoAmerica, held the first-ever Learning Institute: "Climate Change and Health: Building Your Expertise and Leadership for a 21st-Century Climate for Health.” (Our partners in this venture included the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.) The goal: to help prepare participants to speak as leaders on climate and health impacts and solutions.
To expand the number of public health professionals who have the support they need to learn about the issues, ecoAmerica awarded Learning Institute scholarships to 10 individuals from all over the United States. Boasting a diversity of backgrounds and experience, these “Climate Champions” will continue to work throughout the year to promote awareness of and engagement on climate change as a health priority.
As part of this program, each month during 2017 the Climate for Health blog will publish a Q&A with one of our Climate Champions on how the Learning Institute inspired them and how they plan to integrate it into their work. Each blog will be keyed to the monthly theme of APHA’s Year of Climate Change and Health. (Answers are an edited composite of information shared with us.)
Meet Chelsea Alexandra Schafer, a graduate research assistant with the Institute for Community Health & Wellbeing at California State University, Northridge. She is pursuing a Master of Public Health degree with an emphasis in epidemiology and environmental health sciences.
Chelsea, what drew you to the Learning Institute?
I wanted to increase my level of confidence on how to speak to political representatives, while also extending my professional network.
How would you summarize your Learning Institute experience, and what were your takeaways from the course?
The Learning Institute has enhanced my previous level of understanding in shaping media messages on climate change initiatives. Some key insights I gained included properly phrasing my level of concern about values in a way that connects with my target audience, and the importance of providing solutions.
How do you plan to apply what you’ve learned?
The message of using green space to help offset carbon really resonated with me. In my work, I have been recommending integrating greenery, such as moss, grass, or living roofs/walls into built spaces, including both existing architecture and new construction sites.
Given what you see in your work, why do you feel climate change is an important issue for other health professionals?
Climate change is a serious concern, yet it continues to receive backlash felt on a global scale. We must become educated on the topic in order to sway people’s opinions, especially those who are in a position of political power, so that they can make real change happen.
How would you recommend health professionals engage others on climate change?
We should try our best to convey meaningful stories to strengthen support for our ideals. I found ecoAmerica’s 15 Steps to Create Effective Climate Communications, together with Let’s Talk Health & Climate: Communication Guidance for Health Professionals, are a great resource on how to do this.
The Year of Climate Change and Health theme this month is Clean Energy. How do you connect your experience at the Learning Institute with your own experiences and goals as a public health professional?
The Learning Institute confirmed my impression that there needs to be a major call to action on clean energy efforts. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, power generation is a leading cause of air pollution and the single largest source of U.S. global warming emissions, and the energy choices we make at this point in history will have consequences for our health, our climate, and our economy for decades to come. So we must choose renewable energy sources in order to live cleaner, safer, and healthier lives. That means it’s our responsibility to develop stronger infrastructure and to properly assess, address, implement, and evaluate these issues.
On a personal level, it reinforces what I learned during my time as a fellow for the non-profit Saha Global International [see photo at right]. The organization works to empower women of rural Ghanaian communities in becoming leaders by providing business development opportunities and improved access to clean water and electricity. My team and I were able to successfully launch a water purification business providing safe drinking water to the entire community of Mahmuruyili, as well as to help provide solar power to other rural villages. The ability to travel and be a field representative of the organization allowed me to speak with local people face to face and hear their experiences first hand. These conversations are critical to drive future changes and implementation of new energy sources in our rapidly altering global environment.
What are you currently doing to raise awareness and engagement around climate change?
I am getting involved with sustainability research on the Cal State-Northridge campus and hope to provide published research related to climate change and sustainability justice. I also intend to raise awareness in all areas of my life.
Miranda Spencer is a freelance writer and editor specializing in environmental issues. If you have comments, questions, ideas, or would like to submit a blog of your own, feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.