It's Go Time

It's Go Time.

With Biden’s victory in the presidential election, people who care about the environment and who were alarmed by the more than 100 environmental rules rolled back by the Trump administration can breathe a little easier. Take that breath. And… buckle up, because we’ve got a lot of work to do.

Biden’s administration must start with urgency to reverse prior decisions that imperil the public’s health. Our country needs to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and reaffirm our commitment to meeting its goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° C this century. And beyond that, the incoming administration needs to hit the ground running with drastic changes to address the intersecting and escalating challenges of climate change, racial injustice, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic crisis that has resulted from it.

To spur our divided country to act decisively on climate change, Biden’s team will have to address our “polluted information ecosystem,” to take a phrase coined by Whitney Phillips that describes the large-scale problem of disinformation in the US. Though the proportion of Americans who understand that global warming is human-caused is at an all-time high, nearly four out of ten Americans still say they are “not too concerned” or “not at all concerned” about their communities being harmed by climate change. The Biden administration should design a communications strategy to correct the public’s misperceptions about the risks and immediacy of climate change. For instance, they might take a cue from Ed Maibach, a communications scientist whose research has shown that TV weather forecasters can be very effective at helping people to connect the dots between local weather events that can pose a danger to their health and the bigger picture of human-caused environmental change. By taking on the role of trusted climate educator for local TV audiences, broadcast weathercasters can literally bring home the message that climate change affects people’s everyday lives.

It is certainly promising that President-elect Biden calls climate change an “emergency” and has proposed a $2 trillion clean energy and infrastructure plan. We believe the administration can take this a step further by not only declaring a climate emergency, but by naming the problem what it is: a public health crisis. For too long, climate change has been framed as an abstract and distant problem—distant from us both geographically and temporally—something we can put off for another day. But people like you and me are already experiencing serious health effects from climate change. For example, you may be suffering from more seasonal allergies as warmer temperatures caused by climate change lead to longer allergy seasons and worsen air quality. You may have children who have been forced to stay home from school because of wildfire smoke. Perhaps you’ve had to change your exercise routine or skip it altogether some days because of extreme heat waves. If you suffer from asthma, you may have noticed that you’re refilling your prescription inhaler more frequently than you used to. It's critical to make clear the linkages between these health impacts and the climate crisis that's causing them.

Naming climate change a public health crisis brings people and communities into focus. It means triggering an urgent public health response that measures up to the threat we are facing. Think about what happened after 9/11. The terrorist attack in 2001 and the anthrax letters that followed alerted our nation to the need to prepare for emergencies that involve a public health response. Working with the administration, Congress quickly passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act, and in 2003 created the Center for Preparedness and Response at CDC. Since then, crises requiring a public health response have included infectious disease outbreaks as well as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires (all of which have become progressively worse as a result of climate change).

The good news is that policy makers have recognized the importance of public health emergency planning. However—and this is evident in our country’s deficient response to the COVID-19 pandemic—we need more proactive investment in resilient communities. We need faster action on reducing climate change impacts and, most important, we need to fund local health departments to do the climate change work on the ground. Health officials can look to the CDC’s Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework to develop strategies and programs that help their community to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the dangerous effects of climate change.

Public health researchers should lead in developing and refining a research agenda for climate change and health. We need robust investment in this research so we can understand which climate solutions make the greatest difference for safeguarding health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, should expand its funding program for climate change and health, beyond what the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) currently supports. In fact, as Dick Jackson, our newest faculty affiliate, writes in an op-ed (with co-author Howard Frumkin), we need a National Institute of Climate Change and Health.

Public health can’t wait. Together, we need to find ways to align with and lift up the work of climate adaptation programs across all sectors, especially those that have benefits for health, such as regenerative farming, urban forestry, and urban transportation. As a first step, Biden should assemble an environmental justice advisory board to help coordinate policies across agencies and ensure that vulnerable communities are prioritized as we determine the new administration’s agenda. Working together, we can effect holistic change in our communities.

CENTER NEWS

The 5-year anniversary of the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak

The Los Angeles Daily News published a guest column by Diane Garcia-Gonzales and Michael Jerrett in which they reflect on the methane blowout of 2015. The massive gas leak resulted in the largest human-caused release of methane from a single point source in the history of the United States.

Click here to read the column.

Welcoming Dr. Richard "Dick" Jackson

We're honored to welcome our newest faculty affiliate, Dr. Dick Jackson. Dr. Jackson, who is an emeritus professor with the Fielding School of Public Health, is a former director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health and a former California state health officer. He asks the hard questions and is a key player in driving the national discussion on climate health—and this month was no exception. Check out his recent op-ed calling for the establishment of a National Institute of Climate Change and Health, co-authored with Dr. Howard Frumkin, in Scientific American, and his op-ed in the Daily Climate urging the Biden administration to focus its climate response on public health.

COFFEE CHAT WITH DR. DICK JACKSON

We sat down with Dick Jackson to discuss opportunities for promoting health equity and the problem with going back to "normal" after COVID.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Park Equity, Life Expectancy, and Power Building: Webinar Two

UCLA C-Solutions has partnered with the Prevention Institute and the UCLA Center for Occupational and Environmental Health to present a free webinar series about how increasing parks and green spaces could lead to significant population-level increases in life expectancy. You can watch a recording of the first webinar here. And it's not too late to register for Webinar Two: Park Equity Policy and Advocacy, which will be held on December 10. Learn more about policy advocacy action and power building for park equity.

Southern California Community Wildfire Roundtables

It’s no secret that wildfires have had serious impacts on Southern California communities. C-Solutions is partnering with Climate Resolve to host a Community Wildfire Roundtable, where we will hear from community members and leaders who were impacted by the El Dorado, Bobcat, Blue Ridge, or Silverado wildfires. We will discuss the community health impacts of wildfires and identify ways for institutions and policies to better help communities as they prepare for and respond to wildfires.

The roundtables will be hosted on December 4th and December 8th. For more information, and to participate, please reach out to Lyn Stoler at lstoler@ucla.edu.

FROM THE BLOG

Parks and Green Spaces Improve Community Health and Reduce Health Inequities

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, we've all craved access to the outside world. The pandemic has made it much more obvious to all of us that parks and green spaces are essential community infrastructure, indeed a lifeline, especially for city residents. But not everyone has access to safe, well-maintained parks and green spaces. The unequal distribution of parks is an environmental justice issue that contributes to serious health inequities. Read more >>

🔥 THE THIRD DEGREE 🔥

Lightning trivia for non-trivial times

What US federal holiday is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving?
Click here for the answer—it's probably not what you think.

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