Climate Change: Taking Action for Equity

Climate change is impacting human lives and health in a variety of ways. It threatens the essential ingredients of good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply, and safe shelter – and has the potential to undermine decades of progress in global health. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress alone. The direct damage costs to health is estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion per year by 2030. Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.

World Health Organization, “Climate CHange

The theme of this year’s National Public Health Week, “Public Health is Where You Are,” has prompted us to ask ourselves questions as health information technology (IT) and public health professionals and advocates. Who in our neighborhoods and communities are most affected by climate change or vulnerable to its impacts? How can public health organizations and health data professionals engage in reducing impacts of climate change on individuals and communities, particularly those most marginalized? How can public health organizations and health data professionals engage in reducing the causes of climate change?

Lantana recognizes that the impacts of climate change and subsequent health risks are not shared equally across communities; climate change can exacerbate health and social inequities. To create a climate-resilient community, health professionals and organizations at all levels must collaborate with new partners in new fields to build trust, capacity, and a shared language around climate change and its tangible effects on local health and communities. Lantana calls upon the health IT world to take action:

  • Advocate for automating the collection and sharing of climate-related health data to allow efficient, accurate, and immediately useful access for scientists and health professionals who can then disseminate actionable information where and when it’s needed. We are already seeing examples of this, such as: 
    • Weather apps that display local COVID-19 outbreak information, air quality, and pollen status 
    • Google Maps providing extreme heat and wildfire alerts in real time 
    • Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Indexes (EJScreen) mapping and screening tool that combines environmental and demographic indicators in maps and reports. 
  • Be open, curious, and reach out to colleagues and organizers outside your field of expertise. Find out what data they need. Forge cross-disciplinary collaborations to address climate-related health crises at the community level.  
    • A study of London and Delhi1 concluded that “policies to increase the acceptability, appeal, and safety of active urban travel, and discourage travel in private motor vehicles would provide larger health benefits than would policies that focus solely on lower-emission motor vehicles,” suggesting that public health experts can have a big impact when they join forces with urban planners to tackle both public health and causes of climate change at the same time.
    • My Green Doctor has created 45-second scripts for healthcare professionals to discuss climate change with patients. Are there quick scripts you can create to identify vulnerable communities and their data needs?
  • When the capacity of our healthcare infrastructure is undermined, it impacts everyone. Prioritize communities lacking sufficient public health infrastructure to bring their voices to the table. Prioritize communities where healthcare infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and bring them to policy and design discussions. What community health issues do they face? How can they gain access to data to inform solutions? Helping marginalized communities access and use data may help address data gaps and determine new areas of opportunity for improvements to community health.
  • Recognize the negative impacts of the healthcare sector on climate change and solidify the policies and practices developed during the COVID-19 pandemic concerning telemedicine and other innovations within the healthcare industry that can reduce climate impact and improve individual and community health.  

Climate change is a public health emergency that affects all communities, from your own neighborhood, geographic region, professional field, and even the health data world—where knowledge can inform and empower those who can access and quickly use it to make decisions. Making timely, accurate public health data easily accessible to all can help transfer power back to impacted populations, allowing them to identify priorities and solutions at the community level, reduce climate change impacts to health, and improve community preparedness and resilience. Join us in finding a way to integrate health data into meaningful public health practice that benefits a wider community.

[1] Woodcock, J., Edwards, P., Tonne, C., Armstrong, B. G., Ashiru, O., Banister, D., Beevers, S., Chalabi, Z., Chowdhury, Z., Cohen, A., Franco, O. H., Haines, A., Hickman, R., Lindsay, G., Mittal, I., Mohan, D., Tiwari, G., Woodward, A., & Roberts, I. (2009). Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport. Lancet (London, England), 374(9705), 1930–1943.