Axios Expert Voices Virtual Roundtable Discussion: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health
On Thursday, September 15th, Axios’ climate and energy reporter Andrew Freedman and health care reporter Caitlin Owens hosted a virtual Expert Voices roundtable discussion examining the impact of climate change on human health.
Leaders across state and local government, climate-focused nonprofits and medical organizations discussed the effects of air pollution, global warming and extreme weather on human health and considered solutions to combat environmental health issues.
On the health impact of extreme weather events
Attendees spoke about the impact of climate change, wildfires and heat waves on vulnerable communities.
- Lori Hunt, Executive Director of ESG, Amgen: “The impact of climate change and health disparities are inextricably linked. As climate conditions worsen, it will directly impact those with respiratory diseases, from severe weather and increasing incidents of natural disasters to rising air pollution and carbon dioxide levels. These harmful effects disproportionately impact diverse and underrepresented communities at higher and alarming rates.”
- Dr. Rohan Radhakrishna, Deputy Director & Chief Equity Officer, California Department of Health: “It’s literally choking us. It’s affecting our breathing. I grew up in the Midwest, where my kids had snow days, and now my kids growing up in California have heat days and smoke days, missing school, missing soccer practice…those communities with less power and resources are hit first and worst, and we continue to see that in our data and dashboard. So my hope is with each extreme event, it amplifies our sense of urgency and also our sense of hope, that all organizations and sectors can be a part of the solution, both with mitigation as well as adaptation and resiliency.”
- Georges Benjamin, Executive Director, American Public Health Association: “I do believe that more and more people are recognizing that the climate event that they’re experiencing is related to climate change. I think that’s a new change. I don’t necessarily believe that people have then figured out how to take the next step, and the next step is what can you do about it? And I think those are missed opportunities. You know, every time we have a three or four-day heat wave and a temperature level that’s much higher than it’s been in the past, I think we missed a communications opportunity to tell people, yup, it’s hot today, yes it’s summer, but it's hotter today and it’s longer this week because of climate change, and then here’s what you can do about it. I think that’s the piece that’s absolutely missing.”
Localizing climate solutions to specific communities
Attendees expressed the importance of localizing climate solutions as every community has different needs when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change.
- Abby Young, Climate Protection Manager, Bay Area Air Quality Management District: “We’ve really been transitioning in the last couple of years to sort of the traditional mode of developing solutions or strategies or plans that are really agency led, whether you’re a state agency, a city government or a regulatory agency, and really realizing that the solutions have to be community-focused and community-led…equal partnerships with communities are critical to making sure that community concerns and issues are addressed, and to ensure the buy-in of the community to increase the likelihood of success of implementing those plans.”
- Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics: “I’m going from that family in a trailer home to all the way into our rural communities who are vulnerable because of wildfire, and we have to address those structural, socioeconomic and racial inequities that make people incapable of taking the action we’re talking about today. So I get back to the need to be both community-based, but looking to bring those viewpoints and needs forward to our policymakers with a racial equity and socioeconomic equity foundation. That has to be the floor of what we do.”
- Mike Sfraga, Chair, United States Arctic Research Commission: “So when you think about all of these changes that are happening in communities and three or 400 people without reliable internet access who rely on the land, their grocery store is the land, they are subsistence-based hunters and fisherman…and if caribou change migration patterns, then that’s a big deal for the citizens of those villages. If whales change their whaling migration patterns, that impacts an entire community. Ocean acidification, warmer temperatures are driving stocks north and sometimes driving them away…a lot of these things result in communities under stress because their entire livelihoods are upended and their culture is tied to their landscape, their culture is tied to the community.”
The path forward for policy
Conversations pointed out that the path forward for policy on climate change and human health will be rooted in local needs, communication strategies and investment in clean energy technologies.
- Chanell Fletcher, Deputy Executive Officer, California Air Resources Board: “For example, we just passed a pretty big significant reg where we’re going to get to 100% sales of zero-emission vehicles by 2035, so when you’re talking about looking at smog, when you’re talking about the pollution that’s coming from cars, a lot of that we’re going to see shifted, and [in an] extremely ambitious timeline, and that’s just one component and one piece of the work that we’re doing.”
- Lee Ann Hill, Director, Energy and Health, PSE Healthy Energy: “And so in guiding policy to ensure access to electricity during these events, it’s really important that there’s an investment in solutions that both support people and the planet in the near long term, and what this really means is investing in solutions like clean distributed energy technologies, things like solar and battery storage, things that do not further contribute to the cumulative burden of climate forcing and health-damaging air pollutants.”
- Allison Crimmins, Director of the National Climate Assessment, OSTP/US Global Change Research Program: “I think some people have a clear sense of how climate change and health are very intimately related or in fact may be one in the same, and I think in other situations, we aren’t there yet. I do think communication is a very, very big piece of this. I hope that we’ll start to see sort of…a sea change in how people envision transportation and buildings and how we move our goods and services around in a way that’s just more considerate of the people on the ground and how all of those things are affecting our health and one another.”
Thank you Amgen for sponsoring this event.