On November 15th, 2016, the GlobeMed Policy team hosted Dr. Barry Levy of Tufts Medical (co-editor of the book Climate Change and Public Health), Dr. David Gute of Tufts University, and Dr. Jonathan Buonocore of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Center for Health and the Global Environment for a conversation about how climate change is impacting and will continue to impact global health. Dr. Levy opened the panel with an overview of a variety of different impacts including: heat-related disorders; the health impacts of air pollution; vectorborne, waterborne, and foodborne diseases; impacts on nutrition and food insecurity; displacement; and increases in collective violence. Dr. Gute then followed up with a discussion of the ways in which every academic and professional field is implicated in the issue of climate change. He argued that they should all be working together to find solutions, drawing connections between engineering and climate justice through the example of buildings built to decrease carbon emissions as well as accommodate sea-level rise. Finally, Dr. Buonocore talked about the potential for and importance of development and widespread implementation of renewable energy sources.
One noteworthy point brought up during the Q&A was about the impact of climate change on mental health. Mental health is often forgotten in conversations about health emergencies, in the wake of natural disasters, for instance. However, it is just as relevant and important as physical health, and will likely be heavily impacted by climate change. Each of the aforementioned impacts of climate change on health has the potential to impact mental health as well. Mental health impacts must be treated with the same severity as all other impacts.
The panelists presented compelling arguments that were both intimidating as well as energizing. Dr. Gute argued that in most situations, change begins on a community level. This grassroots level is where new technology or new strategies can be tested, or where norms begin to shift. He gave the example of how Tufts as well as most other institutions in Boston, now ensure that every new building they construct is LEED certified, and how that represents a shift in norms. When faced with the recent election of Donald Trump and the nomination of Myron Ebell to lead the EPA, it is difficult to expect much top-down change with regards to the environment over the course of the next four years, making it all the more important to consider the power that individual communities hold to make a difference.
Finally, a theme present throughout the panel was how these problems have had, and will continue to have, disparate impacts on different groups of people across the globe. The impacts of climate change have already proven to and will continue to affect people based on race, gender, class, and geography, all shaped by a long history and currently reality of colonialism that shapes our world today. Taking this into account, we see the importance of the intersectionality of social justice movements. This event was framed around the intersectionality of climate justice and health justice, but it inherently brought up issues relating to economic, gender, and racial justice. This was one of the most important takeaways of the evening: that it is impossible to fight for one type of justice or equality without fighting for them all, a critical message to all those who, like the members of GlobeMed at Tufts, implicate themselves in the fight for health equity.
Below are some photos from the panel: