Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Picture this

What image does climate change conjure in your mind?

According to Maria Blair with the American Cancer Society and one of the speakers at this morning's session on “Climate Change and Health: The Global Challenge,” this is a key question that must be answered to help contextualize the issue and mobilize action.

Kim Knowlton, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council and chair of APHA’s Climate Change Workgroup within the Environment Section, discussed the need for short-term action to offset current and future health risks. She pointed to data that found 2011 to be a year in which all-time high temperatures were broken across the United States.

“Adaptive measures are already happening in cities around the world,” Knowlton told attendees. “Climate change is the health issue that unifies so many pressing health issues of the day.”

After a survey of experts identified significant limits among European health agencies in dealing with climate-related impacts on infectious disease, session presenter Jan Semenza, along with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, helped develop an adaptation tool and software program that health officials can use. The tool allows decision-makers to project risks and map regions or areas that might be at greatest risk for a host of different pathogens based on a variety of potential climate change factors.

Although health departments, nonprofit organizations and a number of federal agencies are working toward preventing climate-related health risks, there remains a disconnect among many policy-makers and the general public about the effects of climate change on the public’s health.

Session presenter Maria Blair challenged the public health community to think about whether “we are framing the problem and engaging people in the right way on this issue.”

“I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard people reflect lately on that awful climate change-induced snowstorm we had the other day or recent climate change-causing heat waves or drought,” Blair said.

We need to mainstream the “complex issue of climate change to be successful and help provide the right tools for those making choices at the local level,” she noted.

Building resilience doesn’t happen overnight and climate change is not a problem that a single institution can solve. Slowly but surely, however, it seems we’re moving the levers to get there.

— M.S.

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