UCSF Sustainability Stories

Ana Toepel, Green Impact, August 2019

UCSF Green Champion Spotlight: Global Health’s Naomi Beyeler

At UCSF’s Sustainability Awards in June, the award in the student category went to Naomi Beyeler, Co-Director of the Global Health Group’s Evidence to Policy Initiative and 2nd year PhD candidate in Global Health Sciences. In nominating Naomi for the award, Jeremy Alberga, Chief Operating Officer for the Global Health Group, noted that she “performed an enormous lift in initiating the climate and health initiative, which addresses the relationships and issues around climate and health from a global policy and financing perspective.”

One of the achievements Beyeler was recognized for was her leadership in UCSF’s hosting of the Global Climate and Health Forum in September 2018, an affiliate event of Governor Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit. The event brought together over 300 officials and experts to generate commitments for action on climate and health—as Alberga stated, “It was the health event of the week.” Beyeler was also the key author of the Call to Action on Climate and Health, launched at the Forum, which was presented to high-level leaders at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Alberga shared that her work with Global Health has made UCSF a major player in efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change on health and health systems in developing countries—quite an accomplishment!

We were fortunate to hear from Naomi directly about her commitment to climate and health. Read on to be inspired by this green champion.

What sparked your interest in the connection between climate and health?
Climate change is impacting the health of our communities today – from the wildfires here in California to the heatwaves in Europe and catastrophic storms and flooding in Mozambique and Bangladesh. We have a short window of opportunity in which to take transformative action to reduce our carbon emissions and avoid much more devastating impacts on health. Climate change is also an issue of equity. Everyone will be affected by climate change, but poor and marginalized communities will be the most impacted.

On a personal note, I have two young children. I want to be able to tell them that we have done everything we can to make sure their future is one where all people can live healthy lives on a healthy planet.

Why do you think sustainability is important for UCSF?
UCSF’s mission is to advance health worldwide. Addressing climate change is one of the most important things we can do to protect health. Health professionals can play a major role in tackling the climate crisis, and UCSF should be leading the way. Healthcare makes up about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (That’s more than aviation!) UCSF is already doing great work to reduce its carbon footprint – and should continue to be a model for low-carbon and sustainable health care. Doctors and health professionals are also the most trusted messengers about climate change. We can use our voice to educate the public and policymakers and advocate for climate solutions.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your work to address climate and health?
We worked with our partners around the world to prepare a Call to Action on Climate and Health, which outlines ten policy priorities for health leadership on climate change. The Call to Action was endorsed by over 100 organizations representing six million health professionals in 125 countries and is being used by many health organizations to advocate for stronger climate policies. I’m proud to be part of an amazing network of health professionals and activists that are taking a stand on one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.

How do you personally live and work sustainably?
I commute by bicycle and public transportation, and I’m vegetarian. I try to bridge the gap between these little things and the big picture by being an informed citizen, staying engaged with local health and social justice organizations, and voting. One thing I’d like to do better is cut back on the amount of flying I do – that can be a challenge working in global health.

What are you most excited about in your work at UCSF moving forward?
I have the privilege of working with truly great partners. As a researcher, being able to collaborate with communities and governments allows me to do research that can have greater real-world impact. I recently attended a meeting with youth activists from twenty countries. Their passion and dedication was inspirational, and I look forward to continuing to working with them and our other partners to provide evidence that can contribute to greater action.

What is one action related to sustainability you would encourage the UCSF community to take?
There is a growing community of clinicians, researchers, students, and staff at UCSF that are working on climate change. I would like to encourage more of our UCSF community members to get engaged – talk to your patients about climate change, incorporate climate change into your research and community programs, include climate in your curriculum, help your labs and buildings go low carbon, and speak out about the need for climate action to protect our health and that of future generations.