Taking action on climate change to improve public health

By Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association

This July, the American Public Health Association is bringing students and early-career professionals from all over the country to Washington, D.C., to speak for health. We’ll be bringing this singular message to the Hill: climate change is the biggest threat facing public health.

Climate change is already affecting the health of communities across the United States. It’s causing extreme weather, increasing allergens, impacting water quality, changing insect populations and causing more extreme heat. For many Americans, climate change means everything from more heat stroke and Lyme disease, to destructive storms and worse allergies. In the years to come, we know these impacts will only get more intense, and affect many more.

Already, the public health community is seeing that climate change is also a threat to health equity. The most vulnerable in our communities are the first to feel the impacts of climate change. Those who already lack access to health care, quality food and water, equal pay or education are also those who are most impacted by extreme weather, allergies, vector-borne diseases and a host of other health threats caused by climate change.

The public health community is working to address these emerging threats. Our workforce is facing new challenges, such as controlling diseases spread by mosquitos and ticks and communicating with the public about the health threats of heat waves and extreme weather. APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity is working specifically to identify and address the health equity issues arising as a result of climate change, as well as solutions.

The students and young professionals joining APHA’s Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp will bring these needs and more to Capitol Hill. As the next generation of public health leaders, they’ll be speaking with Congress about the changes they see in their communities and educating their representatives about the risks climate change poses to public health. They’ll explain why APHA and other public health groups support action on climate change as a path to protecting our health. Registration for the bootcamp is open through June 15, and students and recent graduates are welcome to join.

Prioritizing public health means taking action on climate change. Progress in one is inextricably linked with progress on the other. I’m proud to host this group of students and young professionals standing up for their communities in Washington, D.C. Now is the time for health leaders to be encouraging conversations on climate change and fostering bipartisan action, and these young public health professionals are leading the way.

The American Public 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.

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