Climate and Health Summit: It’s “Back-to-School” Time for Students and Health Professionals Alike

By path2positive

In our home, we’re admittedly a little heavy hearted bidding adieu to the “freedom months” (as my kids refer to summer), and swapping out beach bags and pool towels for over-laden backpacks and P.E. clothes. Although I am long past reveling like my kids in three months of summer break, I am a true summer patriot at heart; I stand in steadfast solidarity with my kids’ insistence on giving each and every day of summer its due. In that spirit, I deep-sixed all back-to-school ads into the recycling bin, and quickly switched every radio station that invaded our summer tunes with loud “get ready for the school year” advertising. Summer is cherished and safeguarded as much as possible as a time to truly be (or ideally, become) a kid again.

However, as we learn that Summer 2015 is on track to be the hottest ever on record, there is no escaping the grown-up responsibilities that allow no hiatus in pushing forward to achieve ambitious climate solutions. That’s why our Climate for Health colleagues and health leaders kept their shoulders to the wheel all summer working to translate last spring’s incredible momentum on climate and health – including the National Leadership Convening on Climate for Health, the White House Summit on Climate and Health, the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, the Pope’s Encyclical, and the historic Clean Power Plan – into a back-to-school season of serious climate action.  

Climate for Health is honored to be helping organize a national Climate Health Summit here in Washington, D.C. September 20-21st. We’ll be partnering with lead organizer Physicians for Social Responsibility, along with the George Mason University Program on Climate and Health, the Public Health Institute Center for Climate Change and Health, Health Care Without Harm, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environment, and the Allergy and Asthma Network and National Association of City and County Health Officials. Back in April at our national Convening, attendees identified as a top priority the need to motivate, educate, and support more health leaders in leveraging their credibility to lead on climate solutions. The upcoming Summit is designed to do just that by bringing the nation’s leading climate and health experts together to empower 200+ physicians, nurses, mental and public health professionals, and students from around the country to lead as climate and health champions. 

As PSR’s executive director, Dr. Catherine Thomasson, notes, “Health professionals are already seeing climate health impacts, whether increased heat stroke, or families traumatized by recurrent floods.  This training will develop the important medical voice in calling for prevention of worsening carbon pollution that causes climate change. Health professionals who participate in the Summit will learn how to effectively support climate solutions, such as the Clean Power Plan, and strengthen their ability to be the powerful, credible advocates that are needed in our communities and states to promote a climate for health.”

A comprehensive roster of plenary and concurrent topical sessions will provide participants with the latest research findings and knowledge about the health implications of climate change and the health benefits of climate solutions. Several Climate for Health leaders will be presenting, such as our newest member, UCLA’s Dr. Richard Jackson, who will make clear how our transportation choices and systems impact the climate and our health. Our own Dr. Lise Van Susteren (who is at the helm of yet another September climate event, an all hands-on-deck rally for Moral Action for Climate Justice taking place on September 24th in conjunction with the Pope’s D.C. visit) will also present at the Summit. As one of the world’s leading experts on mental health and climate change, Dr. Van Susteren will educate participants on the multiple mental health consequences of climate change for individuals and communities.

In addition, Dr. Ed Maibach, who directs the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Washington University, will collaborate with ecoAmerica’s Bob Perkowitz and Meighen Speiser on a session to provide critical communication skills for informing the public and policymakers about climate change as a health issue. They will offer resources and guidance to deliver that message effectively to their peers, patients, communities, and decision-makers who have opportunities to support far-reaching climate actions.  

Beyond the event organizers, ecoAmerica and a number of major national health organizations have come forward as co-sponsors for the Summit, including the American Public Health Association, the Trust for America's Health, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association. Additionally, a large number of diverse leading health organizations are actively promoting the Summit to their members and networks.

As we know, one of the encouraging health sector commitments that came from the White House Climate Summit was a promise from a coalition of over 30 deans from medical, nursing, and public health schools around the country to ensure that the next generation of health professionals is trained to effectively address the health impacts of climate change. While the work is underway to prepare upcoming health leaders not yet on the front lines, we are excited to be supporting today’s health leaders who will be heading “back to school” this fall to acquire the new skills and knowledge that are required to meet the health needs of a changing climate.

I’ve always felt that the biggest draw of saying goodbye to summer and hello to the new school year is not the freshly sharpened pencils (though, admittedly, those are nice), but rather the energizing promise of reuniting with old friends and making a batch of new ones. We’re inspired to be learning with purpose alongside colleagues united by a powerful commitment to make a positive difference on climate. We anticipate the synergy that will come from those courageous and dedicated leaders who are stepping forward on September 20-21st to prepare and lead, and we hope you and your colleagues will consider registering today to join us at the front of the class.

As for my own returning students, I’ve already put in an enthusiastic plug to their school administrators to take a look at the new “Climate Classroom” curriculum just released this summer by the National Wildlife Federation. I’m advocating for my kids to become climate literate so they can be part of a future force to champion climate solutions and environmental innovation – and help ensure that their own kids look forward to summer season with joy.



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