National Health and Government Leaders Focus on the Link Between Climate and Health
Last week, ecoAmerica’s Climate for Health program (including co-sponsors Health Care Without Harm and the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance) gathered over 70 leaders from across health disciplines for the first Climate for Health National Leadership Convening. There, participants undertook two days of strategic planning to accelerate and elevate health sector leadership on climate change.
Fast forward to National Public Health Week, which started on April 6 and focused more strongly on climate and health than ever before. The week commenced with an unprecedented national call from “America’s doctor,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, for Americans to take note of how closely connected climate change is to their personal health and the well-being and safety of their families and communities. In the wake of this historic announcement, the timeliness and need for deeper collaboration across the health sector to underscore this national message is all the more apparent.
“The sooner we act, the more we can do to protect the health of our communities, our kids, and those that are the most vulnerable,” the White House said in a newly released fact sheet. The message that climate solutions must be a part of an overall shift toward a prevention-focused health system is one that will require ongoing amplification.
The Surgeon General’s announcement marks a groundbreaking move to formally frame climate change as a personal health concern – one that affects not only the most vulnerable and those immediately affected by severe weather events, but all Americans. As new data about the health impacts of climate change is made easily accessible, it is increasingly clear that all those who have a professional stake in protecting health now also have a responsibility to promote a healthier environment and climate solutions.
Events such our National Leadership Convening are bringing together leading medical, public health, and health care organizations and associations, along with government thought leaders, to collaborate on this issue. Together, these leaders can begin educating and equipping their trusted health professionals across the country to carry this message forward to their patients, communities, and decision-makers at all levels.
The Convening surfaced a number of ideas for capitalizing on upcoming key public moments that can serve as important vehicles for strengthening the public’s ability to link climate to their own health. These include the upcoming release of the new Lancet Report, the Papal encyclical, and the run up to COP21 Paris. Participants also explored opportunities to leverage health voices to advocate on the co-benefits of active transportation, sustainable food systems, clean and more efficient energy, fossil fuel divestment, and the funding and resources needed to support health professionals to effectively confront emerging challenges.
Climate for Health and its partners will be working together to keep refining and implementing these strategies, and broadening health sector involvement in the issue. The upcoming MomentUs Leadership Summit on May 20th and 21st in Washington D.C. will allow health leaders to further their efforts as they join with colleagues from around the country representing faith, business, higher education, and communities. These various sectors are working to engage more of their leaders with the public to communicate the importance of climate solutions that will also support moral commitment, financial prosperity, global competitiveness, and more resilient neighborhoods, towns and cities. The White House itself will be hosting a national Climate Change and Health Summit later this spring, featuring the Surgeon General and focusing on the critical role the health and public health system needs to play in communicating with Americans about what we stand to gain in reducing the health impacts of climate change.