This week APHA will host our 145th yearly gathering of public health workers, scientists, advocates, students, supporters and educators at APHA’s 2017 Annual Meeting & Expo in Atlanta. And with so many challenges now facing public health, I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be than surrounded by thousands of people determined to make the world a better, safer and healthier place for all.
Of course, this year’s gathering is uniquely relevant to the challenges before us. With a meeting theme of “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health,” we’ll be zeroing in on what is, perhaps, this century’s greatest public health threat: climate change.
“Climate change is exacerbating the threat of disease and injury and endangering the basic foundations of healthy communities.”
From mosquito-borne disease to air and water quality to natural disasters, climate change is exacerbating the threat of disease and injury and endangering the basic foundations of healthy communities. And getting ready for the direct and indirect impacts of climate change — such as the devastation and displacement associated with more extreme weather events or the rise in heat-related illnesses and emergency room visits — can be complex and overwhelming endeavors for local public health agencies, though I know public health will rise to the occasion. After all, our agencies are already stretched thin — already being asked to do more with less.
Fortunately, responding to climate change builds on strengths already embedded at the core of public health practice: prevention, partnership, policy and preparedness. Throughout the Annual Meeting, climate change sessions will focus on many of these core strengths, offering attendees valuable lessons learned, innovative ideas and new inspiration for taking climate action in our communities.
At one session, researchers will discuss using forecasting models for wildfire smoke to protect people living with disabilities. Another will cover efforts at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to improve heat-related risk communications and strengthen community climate resiliency. And a third will feature efforts at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to partner with fellow public agencies to expand tree planting in the city, which not only mitigates the effects of climate change, but helps create more walkable, livable communities. Of course, those three sessions are just the tip of the (endangered) iceberg.
“Responding to climate change builds on strengths already embedded at the core of public health practice: prevention, partnership, policy and preparedness.”
APHA is proud to help lead the climate and health movement. We’ve been sounding the alarm on its threat to people’s health for years now, and we have no plans to quiet down. In fact, this year’s Annual Meeting is the culmination of our latest and most ambitious effort to date, the Year of Climate Change and Health. Throughout this year, each month had a different climate-related theme, and APHA and our partners created and disseminated new educational resources and opportunities to take action. Just last week, our renowned journal, the American Journal of Public Health, published a special supplement on climate change and public health.
It’s been an incredible year for APHA’s climate change work. Actions at the federal level have been disheartening and unfortunate. But at the same time, it’s only strengthened public health’s resolve — and the resolve of so many communities nationwide — to take climate action into our own hands.