Climate change is a health emergency and requires collaboration across sectors; from healthcare professionals to research scientists, from urban planners to nonprofit organizations, from seasoned experts to students and young people. Because environmental health professionals work directly with communities and have irreplaceable community relationships, the environmental health workforce plays a pivotal role in combating the effects of climate change. Venues for collaborative meeting and knowledge across disciplines are increasingly necessary for productive cooperation. The ecoAmerica American Climate Leadership Summit 2019 (ACLS19) provided a powerful platform for learning, partnership development, and idea generation for climate breakthroughs.
The first day of ACLS19 began with plenary sessions of climate experts who shared extensive expertise in clean energy, natural resources, climate justice, and public engagement. Understanding climate science and innovative, breakthrough solutions to the most pressing issue of the generation is necessary for taking action, however incorporating local knowledge and expertise into climate solutions will ensure just and sustainable resolutions moving forward. Therefore, because the environmental health workforce is intimately connected at the community level through food safety, water quality, hazard mitigation, vector and pest control, and air quality, environmental health professionals are uniquely equipped to work on the local level to mitigate climate impacts.
The workgroup session after the plenaries offered focus group discussions. The Health + Climate tables focused on communicating climate change to patients and community members with the groups answering, “How can physicians, nurses, public health, and environmental health professionals better relay the impacts of climate change on their patients’ and communities’ health?” The collective response from the Climate + Health groups was, “By having a unified message, health professionals can shape the message surrounding climate and health by involving their communities.”
Day two of ACLS19 offered further insight on climate and health. A plenary panel of four climate and health leaders, including National Environmental Health Association Executive Director Dr. David Dyjack, addressed the urgency of addressing climate change. Dr. Georges Benjamin, American Public Health Association Executive Director, started the session by saying, “Climate change is here now, it’s impacting health now, and it’s preventable.” Dr. Dyjack stressed the importance of a credentialed workforce that is empowered and educated on climate change solutions, and the leadership that NEHA must take to mold and shape the current state of environmental health. Dr. Dyjack emphasized that associations must work together to create community and leadership at all levels, and expertise and leadership should not be conflated.
NEHA was also honored to receive an America Climate Leadership Award, accepted by Dr. Natasha DeJarnett, for NEHA’s 100% clean energy by 2030 declaration. The NEHA Board of Directors voted unanimously to achieve these efforts. By pledging to utilize clean energy, NEHA is providing an example to the environmental health workforce and other membership associations interested in mitigating climate impacts internally. Other Climate for Health organizations receiving recognition for 100% clean energy declarations included the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, American Public Health Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
For more information on NEHA’s climate change efforts, visit the NEHA Climate Change Website. To become a leader in climate change mitigation in your community, join ecoAmerica and the National Environmental Health Association at this year’s Annual Education Conference, July 9-12 in Nashville. A free pre-conference ambassador training will provide environmental health professionals with skills to communicate climate change.
NEHA 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.