UCSF Sustainability Stories

Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, October 2017

George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications: Annual Report Highlights

The George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications’ mission is to develop and apply social science insights to help society make informed decisions that will stabilize the earth’s life-sustaining climate, and prevent further harm from climate change. Its website includes tools, resources, and reports that identify promising new approaches to enhance public understanding of climate change.

Its 2016 Annual Report identified three particularly important sets of voices that it is helping to speak up about climate change: those of broadcast meteorologists, physicians, and Republicans.

Program on Climate & Health

The Center’s Program on Climate & Health was created to achieve several aims: to illuminate clinical practitioners’ understanding of the health harms associated with climate change and the health benefits created by climate solutions; to increase public and health professional awareness of the climate change and health connections; and to encourage life-saving preventive and protective action.

The Annual Report summarizes three important findings from its research thus far: (1) Most Americans are unaware of the health harms associated with climate change (and who is mostly likely to be harmed); (2) Conversely, most physicians are aware of the health harms, and many are convinced climate change is already harming some of their patients; and (3) People trust their physicians to provide them with information about climate and health.

These findings strongly demonstrate that America’s physicians have an important role to play by educating citizens and policymakers about the human health aspects of climate change.

The program called the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health (the Consortium), which now includes 16 medical societies, enables physicians to educate the public and policymakers about the ways that climate change is already harming the health of Americans, especially our children, the elderly, the sick and the poor, and helps them explain the profound health benefits of climate solutions, now and in the future.

Its recent report Medical Alert! Climate Change Is Harming Our Health summarizes the health risks related to climate change and recommends specific actions that can be taken by doctors, business leaders, public health and their partners, governmental leaders, and all of us.

The trusted voices of these 16 medical societies, along with hundreds of volunteer physicians, are seeking to convey five simple messages:

  1. There is a scientific consensus about human-caused climate change, therefore doctors have a responsibility to take action so that people are not needlessly hurt;
  2. In communities across America, climate change is already harming people’s health;
  3. The health of any American can be harmed by climate change, but some people face greater risks than others (e.g., children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with chronic illness and allergies, the poor);
  4. Unless we take concerted action, the harms to our health are going to get much worse; and
  5. The most important action we can take to protect our health is to reduce heat-trapping pollution by using energy more efficiently and accelerating the inevitable transition to clean renewable energy.

The report includes the following calls to action:

Doctors: First and foremost, physicians need to provide care to patients who are experiencing climate-related health effects. Beyond this, doctors can educate the public and policymakers to assure they understand the importance of action. Reducing heat-trapping pollution is a priority, and vital health infrastructure must be prepared so health is protected from the risks of climate change including floods and storms. Health institutions should focus on reducing energy use, relying on clean energy to the extent possible, and avoiding negative impacts on the environment. Doctors can also encourage medical education at all levels to incorporate climate change-related coursework into curricula.

Business Leaders: Business leaders can take this opportunity to transition their businesses to renewable energy. Many businesses that are already engaged in this transformative change are reaping benefits in cost savings, job creation, and enhanced reputation. They can share their successful experience with other businesses and governmental officials at the federal and state levels.

Public Health and Their Partners: Public health professionals are leaders in monitoring, prevention, preparedness, and public education on health issues. Climate change creates the imperative to do all of these. Examples include crafting early warning systems for heat and extreme weather events, advising hospitals and health system on preparedness, and collaborating with research institutions to enhance surveillance and community resilience in the face of inevitable climate-related disasters. Public health leaders collect the data and create the analyses and reports that keep other stakeholders apprised of how well we’re doing, collectively, to prevent and respond effectively to the health harms of climate change.

Government Leaders: Leaders in local, state, and federal government should immediately begin focusing on preparedness, providing the support needed to build resilience against damaging climate change impacts. Government leaders must also take ambitious steps to prevent the worst health impacts of climate change, including fully embracing clean energy, walkable communities, public transportation, and green building design. In doing so, they will deliver immediate health benefits for their constituents.

All of Us:  We all should know our risks, especially if we live in areas that are particularly vulnerable to disastrous fires, floods, storms, and extreme weather events. Beyond that, we all have the opportunity to be part of the solution. We can reducing our emissions by reducing automobile use in favor walking and cycling, taking steps toward a more plant-based healthy diet, reducing our energy consumption, and, as it rapidly becomes more affordable, opting for clean energy from state and local utilities. The good news is that taking such steps will improve our health and everyone else’s. The final message for “all of us” is to get involved, not just as consumers, but also as citizens. Our health depends it.