Lyandra Dias, June 2016

Earth + Health are One:  Highlights from EARTHEALTH1

EarthHealth1: A Call to Action on Climate Change for UCSF students, staff and health professionals

EarthHealthThis year, Earth Day celebrations at UCSF kicked off with UCSF’s first ever student-led climate change and sustainable health care conference - EARTHEALTH1. The message of the conference was simple, but important – earth and its environment are inextricably linked to human health and well-being and in order to safeguard human health we need to maintain the health of our planet.

EARTHEALTH1 was organized by Alex Schrobenhauser-Clonan, a fourth year medical student and Carbon Neutrality Initiative Fellow. At the start of the conference Alex shared his story on what inspired him to create the conference.  He described the dread and hopelessness he felt when hearing about the multitude of problems caused by climate change. As we spoke, across the room you could hear murmurs and nods of agreement from the crowd of health staff, students, and climate advocates who resonated with him.  But Alex also sees climate change as an opportunity for the healthcare sector to play a pivotal role in combating climate change.

While some of the impacts of climate change are already locked in, he reasons that we have to act now to prevent the situation from exacerbating.  Alex explained, “My generation of UCSF students will be the first to have careers that stretch into the second half of this century, when we will either look back on what we did in this decade of the 2010s and say that’s when we woke up to the existential threat of climate change and decided to make a rapid, comprehensive and democratic transition to a clean energy and sustainably-designed society that encourages health in all its form or we will have hospitals and clinics swamped with people suffering from natural disaster-related epidemics of preventable diseases, people suffering from malnutrition, and increased violence.”

He urged health professionals in the room to expand beyond an individualistic approach on patient treatment to a broader ecosystems thinking approach, where attention is drawn to factors outside the body and further upstream. That is exactly what EARTHEALTH1 aimed to do - integrate climate thinking and sustainability into the training and education of health care professionals and researchers at UCSF. Current health students, our future physicians, can help combat climate change now by advocating for effective climate change adaptation and mitigation policies and by educating people in the local communities they interact with about potential health dangers posed by climate change.

The conference spanned two days featuring a host of nationally recognized speakers. It was fascinating to see the cross-pollination of ideas from the spheres of farming/agriculture, environmental conservation, public health and disaster preparedness, and health and economic policy. Below is the list of speakers, including a short summary on their talks and links to each presentation for those who wish to learn more.  Recordings of Saturday’s presentation can be found here

April 22 EarthHealth1 Speakers:

Alex Schrobenhauser-Clonan, MS4 Welcome Address
Presentation Link

Dr. Daphne Miller, M.D, Author of Farmacology and The Jungle Effect
Farmacology: Total Health from the Ground Up

Dr. MillerDr. Miller long suspected that farming and medicine were intimately linked. She has since traveled to innovative family farms around the country on a quest to discover the hidden connections between how we care for our bodies and how we grow our food. Farming practices can also change the way that we think about health care and medicine—illustrated by her example of a cancer researcher using the model of integrated pest management to tackle cancer cells. It was beautiful to see the striking similarities between images of the layers of soil and layers of epidermis, kidney structure and plant root structure, and intestinal microbes and soil microbes.  Dr. Miller reminded us that these similarities exist, simply put, because we are soil.

Dr. Kinari Webb, Founder and President, Health in Harmony
Saving Lives by Saving Trees

Presentation Link

Dr. Kinari Webb has been working to save lives and rainforests in the non-profit she founded called Health in Harmony. Kinari through her Health in Harmony program reveals that win-win solutions are possible even in seemingly dire circumstances. Her program developed an innovative, highly collaborative model that helped local Indonesian loggers transition away from illegal logging and into organic farming, increased the well-being of local Indonesian communities by providing quality health care, and, at the same time saving the forest and the carbon reserves beneath.

Dr. Peter Joseph, MD, Group Leader, Marin Chapter Citizens Climate Lobby
Preventing Climate Chaos: Medicine’s Greatest Challenge

Presentation Link:  To be provided.

Dr. Joseph addressed why he believes the most effective and efficient way to reduce carbon emissions is to put a meaningful price on carbon through adoption of a carbon tax combined with a re-distributive dividend policy. This would energize the global economy base to make clean energy the right choice in all circumstances thereby keeping fossils in the ground.

April 23 Earthealth1 Speakers
Alex Schrobenhauser-Clonan, MS4 Welcome address
Presentation link

Dr. Linda Rudolph, MD, MPH, Climate Change and Public Health Project at the Public Health Institute
Climate Change and Health: Mobilizing the Health Care Workforce

Dr. Linda Rudolph spoke about the paradox that exists between human health and climate change. At present human population is healthier than ever before by all metrics. The reason we have this paradox of health is because we have exploited the planet and its resources at an unprecedented rate, exceeding 9 planetary boundaries. She talked about the “Climate Gap” where people in disadvantaged communities are more likely to suffer from the impacts of climate change, and explored how three factors - your underlying health status, level of exposure to environmental harms, and your living conditions – are what make people vulnerable or resilient to climate change. Physicians that work closely with vulnerable communities can be champions of social and environmental justice.

Gail Lee, MS, Director of Sustainability at UCSF
What does Sustainability mean to UCSF?

Presentation Link and Prezi presentation

Gail Lee is the Director of Sustainability at UCSF, and oversees all sustainability efforts across the UCSF campus and the UCSF Health System. She provided a comprehensive overview of the UCSF’s Sustainability structure, from the Academic Senate Committee on Sustainability, UCSF Advisory Committee on Sustainability, the Sustainability Steering Committee, the nine different work groups and their projects and goals, and the challenges and successes that UCSF has experienced as we work towards a goal of carbon neutrality by 2025.

Dr. Bob Gould, MD, UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment
Engaging Health Professionals to Support Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability

Presentation link

Dr. Bob Gould serves as the Director of Health Professional Outreach and Education for the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) and the Immediate Past President of the National Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a non-profit organization that works to protect human life from the gravest threats to health and survival. He is also the current President of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of PSR.  For many years, and continuing now, PSR has had a central focus on the environmental and public health impacts of nuclear weapons, and in the early 1990s expanded their work to include the dangers of climate change to health. Bob spoke extensively on the clinician’s role in environmental and public health advocacy, directing the audience to beneficial programs and resources such as the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, Healthcare without Harm, and the Climate and Health Literacy Consortium for more information on the health sector’s role in combating climate change.

Dr. Tom Newman, MD, MPH, Professor of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Pediatrics at UCSF
Sustainably Taking Action on Sustainability

Presentation link

Dr. Newman has been a tireless Sustainability Champion at UCSF, who lobbied for the creation of the UCSF Academic Senate Sustainability Task Force in 2007, served as its co-chair and is responsible for much of the progress in campus sustainability initiatives. In his light-humored talk, he provides suggestions on how to deal when climate science news brings you down, and how to take care of yourself while continuing to do the important work of addressing climate issues.


It is understandable why, when asked whether they identify climate change as a health issue, a large percentage of survey respondents say no. The connection between climate change and health is not always an obvious one. As we learned during the conference, this is because while certain health issues are a direct result of climate change, more often than not, human health is indirectly impacted by climate change. For instance, increase in temperatures not only causes extreme heat events, which are the single biggest factor in acute heat illness deaths (direct impact), but also increases ozone levels which contributes to increases in smog, air pollution, prevalence of related respiratory ,and cardiovascular disease, risk of wildfires, and idust which in some cases then leads to an increase in the proliferation of pollen (all indirect effects). Recognizing that climate change causes local environmental, economic, and social impacts that lead to significant health impacts is crucial.

The hope from this conference is to power a cultural shift in medicine to bring down the false divide that exists between humanity and nature. Wonderful things have come out of student led movements in the past and EarthHealth1 promises to be no different. EarthHealth1 is the first of many steps towards building student and faculty momentum towards using health expertise to combat climate change on a local, regional and global level.

Comments From Attendees

Logo“I enjoyed the symposium and learned a tremendous amount about the linkage between health and climate change and ways to mitigate the future more severe climate changes. All health professional students - nurses, pharmacists, dentists, physician assistants, among others - would benefit from this knowledge.”
Dr. Julia Walsh, Professor, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley

“It was inspiring to me to see students engaged and seeking ways to support climate action through the lens of health.  The speakers brought thoughtful and sobering information which spurred the audience to action in the breakout sessions.  My hope is that this is the start of a student and staff movement at UCSF to engage their peers, take concrete actions and use their voices for change.”
Gail Lee, Sustainability Director, UCSF

“The Earthealth1 conference was a wonderful success with cutting-edge talks by a variety of nationally-recognized speakers. The conference provided many opportunities to connect with some of the most influential professionals and volunteers working on climate change issues. Attending the Earthealth1 conference motivate me to work even more diligently to combat the looming public health risks associated with climate change. I learned during the Earthealth1 conference how climate change will certainly impact my patients in the care I am able to give them.”
Dr. Michael Martin, Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, UCSF

“This conference was greatly informational as well as inspirational. As one of the speakers explained: ‘we are not connected to nature, we ARE nature.’ The combination of presentations and possibilities for active input by participants during the ‘active breakout-sessions’ lead to a variety of ideas for action and a ‘real product’. EARTHEALTH1 is not over it has just begun!”
Alanya den Boer, Sustainability Intern and international scholar, UCSF