ACLS19 Climate Leader Q&A: David T. Dyjack Dr.PH, CIH

The American Climate Leadership Summit 2019 (ACLS19) on May 1-2 will feature conversations with prominent climate experts and advocates. This year’s theme is “Breakthrough,” and we’re looking for just that — breakthrough strategies and ideas to help transform climate action into a true national priority.

ecoAmerica asked our ACLS19 speakers to shine a light on their climate breakthrough moments and ideas. We’re pleased to provide the latest interview in our speaker series, from Dr. David T. Dyjack.

David T. Dyjack Dr.PH, CIH, is the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and sits on the Federal Advisory Committee on North American Environmental Cooperation. David brings over 30 years of environmental health experience to ACLS19, where he will discuss the intrinsic connection between environmental health and climate change, and the significant influence these factors have on the overall health of Americans.

What was your climate breakthrough moment?

Dante’s Inferno meets Orwell’s 1984. Except it was 1995, and I had just created and delivered a public health graduate course on global environmental health. The 2-unit survey course examined our increasingly stressed out environment through the lens of prevention and health promotion. The “Global Warming” modules felt a little alarmist, as my students were quick to point out. Upon reflection, every dark prediction we discussed was accurate, except the timing. The future I described for the year 2100 is here today: My wife and I live on an island on the Chesapeake Bay. Elevation: 3 feet. Climate and health are intimately entwined, as are my professional and personal climate interests. I can hear the ghosts of Dante and Orwell sniggering in the shadows.

What do you wish more Americans knew about climate change?

Climate change and environmental health are intrinsically connected. As impacts of climate change increase, so do its negative effects: more frequent flooding leads to contaminated drinking water, warming climates exacerbate vector-borne illnesses, higher levels of emissions decrease air quality. The environmental health profession aims to prevent human injury and illness and promote well-being by addressing our environmental surroundings.

Climate change is profoundly local. NEHA and ecoAmerica recently partnered to conduct a survey of NEHA members, asking them a variety of questions to measure their understanding and perception of climate change in their personal and work lives. In many regards, the general public and NEHA members have increasingly recognized that climate change is affecting their communities, the world’s poor, and the lives of future generations. Awareness of these effects has increased annually. However, Americans in general are less likely to recognize that climate change will affect them personally. From the food we eat, to the air we breathe, to the water we drink, climate change is already impacting our personal lives, and educating environmental health professionals on the direct, measurable impacts of climate change will increase awareness, empower the profession, and provide tools and resources for further advancement. Environmental health prolongs lives while simultaneously benefiting the economy through conserved resources and greater efficiency.

What are current climate breakthrough or initiatives that inspire you/give you hope that we will effectively address climate change?

The most effective way to combat climate change is to ensure that the environmental health workforce is at the table as solutions are developed. On-the-ground knowledge and expertise is instrumental in finding practical climate change solutions. NEHA is publishing a white paper, in partnership with ecoAmerica, that addresses climate change and emergency preparedness. This paper highlights climate change impacts on the economy, human health, air quality, heat events, drought, wildfires, extreme storms, floods, and vector-borne illnesses. Because of the anticipated increase in these climate change impacts, it is essential that environmental health professionals be equipped to face the issues on the ground. The research amalgamated in this white paper and many other publications are increasingly preparing EH professionals to deal with climate change challenges. NEHA recently committed to 100% clean energy by 2030. By committing to work toward 100% clean energy, NEHA is projecting leadership and providing a model for other environmental and public health organizations.  

In September of last year, the Global Climate and Health Forum proposed a Call to Action on Climate and Health that considered the environmental health workforce. This proposal seeks to strengthen the commitments under the Paris Agreement, transition away from non-renewable energy sources and inefficient transportation systems, and invest in resilient and healthy communities. Highlighting the connection between climate and health brings the environmental health field to the global stage.

What do you hope ACLS19 will accomplish in moving the needle on climate action?

The environmental health profession is often overlooked in the conversation around climate and health. ACLS19 may be the first time that workforce is at the table; the gathering offers a great opportunity to feature environmental health professionals as first responders in the climate crisis. Attendees will leave with the understanding that climate solutions must bring environmental health practitioners along with other health, faith, and community to the table in order to move the needle.

ACLS19 also offers NEHA the opportunity to showcase its recent work on climate change research and action. Leaders in climate and health can join NEHA and other organizations in walking the talk — committing to the 100% clean energy declaration.

Why should others join you at ACLS19?

ACLS19 provides a platform for education and thoughtful discussion of climate change. Leaders in the field will contribute various frames of reference to address impacts of a changing climate, through a variety of angles. Successful mitigation of the threats of climate change will come most efficiently by combining outcomes and accomplishments. Environmental health professionals, academics, climate change thought leaders, and many other disciplines will join together to collaborate on effective solutions.


Hear more from Dr. David Dyjack this May at the American Climate Leadership Summit 2019 in Washington, DC. Click Here to Register

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