Request Info
Climate and Health Climate and Health

Miller School Plays Leadership Role in Global Climate Symposium

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in partnership with the CLEO Institute, led the 10th annual Empowering Capable Climate Communicators Symposium. The virtual event, held November 19 to 21, attracted approximately 600 attendees from around the world.

The symposium’s world-renowned keynote speakers and expert panelists spoke on the impacts of climate and extreme weather events on health and held discussions on climate and health-related policies.

The Miller School’s Naresh Kumar, Ph.D., associate professor of public health sciences, joined the CLEO (Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities) Institute’s Caroline Lewis, M.S., founder and senior climate advisor, Yoca Arditi-Rocha, M.A., executive director, Natalia Ortiz, director of development, in giving welcoming remarks.

“We are already witnessing the adverse health effects of climate change around the world, such as unintentional injuries due to forest fires and hurricanes, rising microorganism levels due to king tides and flooding, increasing allergies and asthma due to prolonged blooming seasons, and more,” Dr. Kumar said. “With COVID-19, these impacts are further magnified, as we have been witnessing increased frequency of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and one of the most intense Saharan dust storms in the summer of this year.”

Dr. Kumar emphasized that the University of Miami is committed to addressing the adverse health effects of climate change.

Climate impacts on health

The first keynote speaker was Sumita Khatri, M.D., M.S., professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine, national board member at the American Lung Association, and an adult pulmonary and ICU physician at the Cleveland Clinic, who highlighted the importance of listening to patients and understanding the connection between health, climate change, and air quality.

She also shared three patient stories:

One was about a retired schoolteacher she met three years ago. The patient — who went on a trip to Florida with her husband — swam with dolphins and developed an unresolved pneumonia and began to have inflammation in her lungs.

“All of this was probably related to the algal bloom that was going on at the time with the red tide,” Dr. Khatri said. “If we are not listening to patients, we won’t notice [the connection] and how they are being affected.”

The first panel of the symposium, which was on climate and health with a lens on COVID-19 and the implications of disease outbreaks, included Dr. Khatri, the Miller School’s Michael Campos, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine, and Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and public health sciences and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine.

Dr. Campos spoke about how the ground-level ozone, mold spores, dust mites, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease pose as risks to lung health, while Dr. Carrasquillo focused his talk on climate and health disparities caused by social determinants of health and climate change, specifically using research data to identify lower life expectancies among Blacks and Latinos compared to whites.

Asim Jani, M.D., M.P.H., an infectious disease expert and an associate adjunct professor at Florida State University, also served on the panel and spoke about the connections between environmental changes and degradation, and the increased risks of infectious diseases. He emphasized that diseases are more like complex non-linear systems that require interdisciplinary approaches.

The first day of the symposium also included two breakout sessions — one on climate, health and food, the other on climate, weather and clinical practice. The second session included presentations from Dr. Kumar, Dushyantha Jayaweera, M.D., professor of medicine, Mehdi Mirsaeidi, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine and public health sciences, and Daniel Samano, M.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Neurological Surgery, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Department of Public Health Sciences.

They spoke about policy responses to protect public health, the health risks posed by climate change, climate change and health from a physician perspective, and the influence of extreme precipitation influence on the utilization of HIV clinics in Miami.

Extreme weather impacts on health

On the second day of the symposium, Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D., professor and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, who also is a United Nations Champion of the Earth recipient, served as the keynote speaker.

Although there is American consensus that climate change is a problem to address, Dr. Hayhoe shared that there is a tendency for Americans to believe that it will not affect their communities.

“Climate change is profoundly unfair,” she said. “The communities already at risk for climate change are also at risk from other systemic problems.”

Speakers of the health and extreme weather events panel included Timothy M. Hall, Ph.D., senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Kathy Baughman McLeod, M.S., M.B.A., senior vice president at The Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, Florida International University’s Carissa Caban, M.D., assistant professor and director of Behavioral Health Services at Student Health Center, and Dr. Kumar.

Dr. Hall spoke about this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which was unusual due to the number of storms and accumulated hurricane energy. He expressed concern about the increasing number of people who are living in hurricane storm paths, as sea levels and temperatures continue to rise and change, and as storms continue to increase in intensity. Baughman discussed global heating and the dangers that results from the increasing heat. She advocated for naming heat waves as we do hurricanes.

Dr. Caban spoke about the mental health impacts that climate change is posing. She shared methodology for dispatching psychological first aid and disaster relief in response to climate change-worsened events, and techniques and organizations in building resiliency in communities.

Dr. Kumar shared the long-term secondary health impacts of hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Michael. After rigorous review of the available data, he reported post-storm increased community costs — in millions of dollars — from emergency room usage when local community clinics were unavailable due to storm issues, increased asthma and allergy problems, and even higher premature birth and infant mortality rates, all of which have remained underreported by regular data collection.

A policy discussion to guide climate- and health-related policies

During his keynote address, Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson, Ph.D., M.S., director of the atmosphere/energy program and professor of civil and environmental engineering, spoke about how to move to a renewable energy economy as a solution to greenhouse gas emissions and the updating of transportation, heating/cooling systems, and industrial sectors. He provided examples of energy generation and storage technologies for use in an all-electricity infrastructure.

On the third day of the symposium, the panel focused on the solutions that are out there to help tackle the climate crisis.

Congresswoman Donna E. Shalala, Ph.D., shared some of the risks that South Florida faces today from climate change and the bi-partisan actions in motion towards restoration and mitigation, while Congressman Francis Rooney shared concerns about the environmental damage South Florida has been dealing with due to climate change, as well as the steps taken in addressing sea level rise.

Additionally, with 2030 as the benchmark year for changing course on CO2 emissions, Ben Haley, M.S., spoke about his research blueprint to the decarbonization of the energy system. He said that the four pillars of the plan are electricity decarbonization, energy efficiency increases, electrification, and rational use of carbon capture.

To wrap up the informative, three-day symposium, Kevin J. Patel, a political science and government student at Loyola Marymount University, shared his experience working with youth and underserved communities. He helped them register to vote and get their voices heard in American democracy. He said that climate change and its exacerbation of ongoing social injustices is already worsening the lives of individuals.

Written by Amanda Tores 
Published on November 25, 2020