On May 15, ecoAmerica and Climate for Health convened more than 50 health leaders for the National Climate and Health Leadership Forum, co-hosted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in Washington, D.C. APA’s CEO, Dr. Arthur Evans, welcomed the participants and reaffirmed their commitment to addressing the mental health impacts of climate change. In opening remarks on the State of Climate and Health, ecoAmerica’s Founder and President, Bob Perkowitz, and the American Public Health Association’s Executive Director, Dr. Georges Benjamin, discussed the role of health leadership in addressing climate change. Americans trust doctors and nurses as climate messengers, and are beginning to understand that health improves when we act on climate. Public health and healthcare leaders therefore have a responsibility to advocate for climate solutions while mitigating their own impact.
The first panel of the day featured speakers from the Children’s Environmental Health Network, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Green Latinos who grounded attendees in the overarching focus of health equity. These ideas were woven throughout the forum discussions. Those who contribute the least to energy-generated pollution often suffer the most from its consequences. Communities of color, children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor are more vulnerable to climate impacts. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that globally, children are estimated to bear 88% of the burden of disease due to climate change. In the work moving forward, it is imperative to seek to achieve health equity through clean energy solutions.
Representatives from Kaiser Permanente, the American Geophysical Union, and My Green Doctor shared concrete mitigation examples for participants to consider in their own work, and the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, and Trust for America’s Health led participants in a vibrant advocacy discussion. Finally, all participants engaged in an immersive discussion on the opportunities for collaboration, how we can best function as a coalition, and how to ready our organizations for participation. Leadership from the American College of Sports Medicine, National Environmental Health Association, Health Care Without Harm, and the American Lung Association provided coalition-building steps they have each experienced and led.
Discussions revealed several key insights:
- Climate change is a health emergency and health professionals have an obligation to talk about it as such with patients, peers, and elected officials at all levels.
- Health professionals are trusted messengers on climate change and are eager to act, but need support.
- There is a need for one national health agenda on climate change around which health professionals can coalesce.
- There is a desire to build an inclusive health movement on climate solutions which will require ongoing opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and support.
The forum closed with a call to action from ecoAmerica’s president, Bob Perkowitz, for concrete commitments to work towards 100% clean energy within organizations and health institutions. Climate for Health will support partners as they implement key milestones along their pathways to lead on climate solutions. Read the Forum Summary Report here to learn how.