The session brought together lead researchers, experts and practitioners to first provide a broad federal climate change framework and then hone in on specific (and successful!) instances of state and local actions that demonstrate momentum on reducing our emissions.
John Balbus, of George Washington University’s School of Public Health, noted how changed the climate (pun intended) is this year when it comes to discussions of global warming and proposed federal climate legislation. In contrast to the landscape during last year’s APHA Annual Meeting, the urgency for passing climate legislation has stemmed, he said.
Balbus described how the election and the new Congress really changed the game.
"There was lots of momentum last year and then health care reform happened,” he said.
Despite the slowdown (and the recent economic meltdown), the session speakers expressed strong optimism. Balbus detailed examples of federal regulations as well as Environmental Protection Agency efforts through its soon-to-be released endangerment finding that highlight lots of “activity on all fronts that can have cascading health benefits if done right.”
M. Kathleen Murphy, health services coordinator for Milwaukee Public Schools, provided a poignant case study of how the Milwaukee school system worked to effectively limit pollutants that disproportionately affect the city’s lower-income communities. As one of the leading U.S. cities with poor air quality and high rates of asthma, the city sought real reform. Milwaukee officials conceived and more recently implemented a host of strategies to limit bus emissions and other efforts to improve the region’s air quality. For example, they have stipulations in contracts with city delivery trucks and buses that reduce emissions by incorporating anti-idling requirements in most transportation vehicles. What a simple, yet awesome idea.
Balbus’ closing remarks captured the important role the public health community has in facilitating real change on such issues.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. A lot of advocacy is needed. The health care sector is needed to continue to demonstrate its own greening and that these goals can be reached.”