Feature Stories

Robert Hood, September 2020

Colin Baylen: A Driving Force for Sustainability Issues at UCSF

Climate Strike

From helping to establish the UC San Francisco Human Health and Climate Change student group, to lobbying local and national officials and organizing the university’s Climate Health Forums, Colin Baylen (photographed above, far right, in hat) has been a driving force behind many of the successful sustainability issues on campus over the past two years.

The UCSF medical student was recently honored with one of the university’s five Sustainability Awards for his myriad of contributions to sustainability issues at UCSF. This includes organizing faculty panels and group discussions on the following subjects:

• The health emergency of severe wildfires.
• The link between climate change, migration and human health: what to know and what to do.
• Health disparities and displacement associated with climate change.

These seminars were attended by 30 to 60 students, faculty, and staff and connected to others remotely. The panel discussions were accompanied by “Opportunities for Action” which enabled interested learners to take next steps.

“Over the past two years, the Human Health and Climate Change student group has put on a number of panels for the UCSF community on topics ranging from the health effects of severe wildfires to the disproportionate impacts of the climate crisis on under-resourced communities,” Baylen said. “The goal of these sessions has been to bring together all levels of health learners and professionals to discuss the emerging threats climate change poses to human health. One of the gratifying outcomes of these events has been watching our UCSF climate-health community grow.”

Baylen said this growth has led to increased awareness of climate-health issues among UCSF students, faculty and staff, and important student-to-student and student-to-faculty connections resulting in research projects and action at the university.

Baylen also worked with fellow UCSF student Stephen Ettinger to develop a carbon offset program for faculty travel. He said the project was built out of concern for the impact that the health care sector has on the climate crisis.

“Global emissions continue to rise annually, and the U.S. is the second greatest emitter of carbon dioxide worldwide, with the U.S. healthcare sector accounting for an estimated 10 percent of those emissions,” Baylen said. “Vulnerable populations in the U.S. and people living in low-resource countries are experiencing the earliest and greatest consequences of climate change. As a global leader in healthcare with the stated mission of ‘advancing health worldwide’, Stephen and I – along with many other members of the UCSF community – believe UCSF has a responsibility to actively mitigate its carbon footprint and the impacts of climate change on human health.”

Baylen and Ettinger also investigated UCSF’s emissions data and learned that business and academic air travel is a major source of carbon emissions for the university. “In 2018, travel accounted for about 14 percent of UCSF’s total carbon emissions,” he said. “We decided that this was a problem that needed to be addressed, however, we also understood the importance of the work that requires this travel. Stephen and I saw carbon offsets as a way to mitigate the impact of this unavoidable travel.”

While Baylen has been involved in many sustainability initiatives at UCSF, he believes the Human Health and Climate Change student group will have the greatest impact.

“This group has brought together students and faculty from across UCSF and has been the springboard for a number of initiatives that have led to substantive change at the university,” he said. “It also has been the source of opportunities for students to find community, connect with mentors, become involved with medical education and curricular development, and participate in health policy development and advocacy.”

Professor Emeritus in Medicine, Katherine Gundling, nominated Baylen for this year’s Sustainability Award. “Colin and his colleagues have gone above and beyond their normal duties in their efforts to raise awareness about sustainability efforts of campus,” she said. Gundling has served as the faculty mentor to the Human Health and Climate Change student group for the past two years and worked directly with Baylen on many projects.

“I was very humbled to receive the Sustainability Award,” he said. “All of the climate-health efforts I’ve been involved with over the past two years have been in collaboration with other students and there are many passionate students at UCSF carrying out this work who deserve recognition. Finally, I’ll say that I feel grateful to be at a university that has created such an award, and acknowledges sustainability work and activism by students, faculty and staff.”