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. July's theme is Food and Nutrition. (Answers are an edited composite of information shared with us.)
This month's Champion is Jason Craig, a PhD student and Research Assistant at the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. Jason uses Participatory Action Research to explore the role of democratic participation as it applies to issues associated with agriculture, food systems, and nutrition.
Jason, please begin by describing for us in one sentence your experience at the APHA Learning Institute.
I had the opportunity to see a range of communication strategies used by leaders approaching “health” from many different perspectives.
Given what you see in your work, why do you feel climate change is an important issue for health professionals?
Most nutritionists agree that fresh fruits and vegetables are important for good health, and much of the work we do is trying to make fresh, seasonal produce available and affordable to more people. The strategies we explore involve working with farmers to increase opportunities for direct sales to the eaters. Supporting farmers in this way has helped us recognize the challenges these farmers face in light of climate damage. The previous two years, South Carolina has experienced flooding that destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars of crops, and this year, 90 percent of the peach crop was wiped out by a frost that came on the heels of an unusually long January heat wave.
Why were you interested in the Learning Institute course?
I believe that many of the problems we address in Public Health are complicated problems that will require all sorts of disparate people, with different priorities, working together. I often hear these problems referred to as “wicked” problems, and I often see where certain solutions become politically contested just by the ways they are described. In this way, anything I can learn about effective communication seems beneficial.
What were your key takeaways from the course?
The course did a great job of reminding me to start my communication efforts by listening. It is a lesson that I’m always working on, the idea that to know that someone else can hear me, I need to demonstrate that I can hear them.
How do you plan to apply what you’ve learned?
I apply what I learned in the way that I interact with other members of our research team, our community partners and with the ways I interact with students in the classroom. In each of these interactions, I try and start by listening to specific concerns of others, and then identify opportunities to share my own. Along these lines, I’ve discovered that it helps people to hear me better if I first own concerns about climate damage as personal concerns. I find that in these cases there is a lot less arguing or debate, and a lot more opportunities to look for solutions that address mutual concerns.
What are you currently doing to raise awareness and engagement around climate change?
In teaching and in community work, we mostly communicate through the lens of a food system that includes all the decisions that people make in getting the food from the soil to the body. We try and have conversations about how these decisions affect environmental and human health. In this way climate change is effected by many of these decisions and will in turn have an effect on future decisions.
What would you recommend to other health professionals who want to engage others on climate change?
I have found it easier to build relationships when I own the concerns about climate damage as my own concerns. In a similar vein, I try and allow time for others to suggest solutions before I suggest my own. Even when I have a specific solution I’d like to draw attention to, I find it more important to have conversations rather than sales pitches.
Tim Kelly is the Climate for Health Program Manager at ecoAmerica. He has over six years of experience working within the health sector conducting outreach and education on the impacts of environment on our health. If you have comments, questions, ideas, or would like to submit a blog of your own, feel free to contact Tim at email@example.com.
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