Addressing climate change can be overwhelming and daunting. However, NEHA and its Climate Change Program are up for the challenge. NEHA is meeting this task through its climate change website, which offers climate and health resources addressing: air quality, built environment, food security/food safety, and emergency response. These resources are recommended by NEHA’s Climate Change Committee and ecoAmerica.
Through its partnership with ecoAmerica, NEHA and ecoAmerica were able to provide the American Climate Metrics Survey to NEHA members in 2016 with a follow-up survey in 2017 to understand what NEHA members think about climate change, actions, and solutions. The survey exhibited improvements in 2017 from 2016 in attitudes towards clean energy solutions: a 9-point increase in the understanding that if the U.S. took steps toward clean energy and climate solutions, it would increase job opportunities; and a 10-point increase in perception of clean energy and climate solutions helping the economy. Increases that were on par with the national average include beliefs and concerns about climate change: 3% that it is happening, 1% are personally concerned, and 5% noticed more severe weather. There was a significant drop in NEHA members from 63% in 2016 to 52% in 2017 in the belief that there should be money to fund research and development of new clean energy sources.* Interestingly, it appears the survey being open September 18-28, 2017 during three major hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) did not greatly influence the results. NEHA members’ and environmental health professionals’ expertise on climate change and its impacts needs to be above the national averages. The biggest take-aways from the survey are that NEHA members value clean air and water and feel a moral responsibility to work towards a safe and healthy climate, at higher rates than national averages. Additionally, a large majority believe communities need to prepare for floods and drought to minimize impact.
Some of the disconnect between environmental health and climate change could be explained by the lack of dialogue between environmental health practitioners and partnerships with emergency preparedness. Emergency preparedness is continuously planning for climate change events such as hurricanes, fires, and severe flooding. Environmental health often is not considered a traditional stakeholder in response planning, despite its crucial contribution during recovery. Communities are often behind in response recovery because environmental health was an afterthought, for example, shelters. Shelters are key in a disaster, and maintaining sanitary conditions is a priority for environmental health. Diseases such as norovirus and gastrointestinal infection can spread quickly. Environmental health involvement early on would build fail-safes to reduce or prevent the spread of disease.
While there have been improvements in NEHA members’ mindfulness of climate change and its health effects, the disconnect still exists. Based on the survey results, NEHA members are unaware of resources that can assist them in providing subject matter expert advice to policymakers and the public. Members see the beneficial solutions to health, however there is room for continual growth. NEHA and ecoAmerica are working on additional resources and tools that will help make the connection between environmental health and climate change stronger. When environmental health professionals engage, prepare, and collaborate with other professionals and community members on effective climate change strategies, then partnerships and solutions arise.
To learn more about the survey results and a training opportunity offered through our partnership with ecoAmerica at NEHA’s AEC, please join us for a webinar on Wednesday, May 23 at 1 pm. Register here.
* This decrease can partially be attributed to more options being added to the survey for where money from a carbon fee could go. The second most favored option was for the money to help improve education and health services.
Christine Ortiz Gumina, MPH, and Vanessa T. DeArman are both NEHA Project Coordinators.
The National Environmental Health Association is a partner of Climate for Health, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health. Founded by ecoAmerica, Climate for Health offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering health leaders to speak about, act on and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about our partnership and the resources available to you here.