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Exploring the Intersections of Climate Change and Public Health: A Symposium on Societal and Health Impacts

The sixth Climate and Health Symposium was held at the University of Miami on Friday, April 7. The daylong symposium featured discussions among experts, researchers, and policymakers from fields like medicine, law, and engineering on how climate change affects health and how to prevent it.

The link between climate and mental health is often theorized but poorly quantified.

“It is unknown whether the rates of suicide – which is the leading cause of death globally – are systematically affected by climate conditions,” said Dr. Carl Schulman, Professor in the Trauma Burns and Surgical Critical Care Division.

Dr. Carl Schulman

Significant reports found that suicide rates go up 0.7% percent in U.S. counties for every one-degree Celsius increase in monthly average temperature. Even if you live in a cooler region, as it gets warmer, suicide rates go up. Climate change may also lead to temperature-associated injuries, he added.

A report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrates that there's an increasing burden of trauma injury due to climate change and natural disasters.

Initiatives to Address Climate Change's Societal and Health Impacts.

“Understanding, investigating, and mitigating the societal and health impacts of climate change requires transdisciplinary knowledge and skills,” said Dr. Naresh Kumar, Professor, and Director of the Graduate Program in Climate and Health.

Dr. Naresh Kumar

The University of Miami Department of Public Health Sciences, in collaboration with the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, has developed a graduate program in Climate and Health. “This program trains the future generation of manpower, which will have a deep understanding of the complex interaction between climate, climate-sensitive environmental stressors and our society, their short and long-term impacts, and management.”

“The program actively engages students in problem-based learning and works with our communities and local agencies in Miami-Dade, which is a live laboratory to study the societal and health impacts of climate change,” said Dr. Kumar, who is behind the symposium’s concept, and has diligently assumed the leadership in orchestrating its successful execution year after year.

Translating Climate Resilience into Actions in Miami-Dade County.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava expressed her concerns regarding climate change and Miami-Dade’s response.

She stated the need to accelerate and supersize our actions to address climate change. “The climate crisis is arriving on our shores earlier than most.”

“We have to innovate in real time to fight back and we are quite literally writing the climate playbook that may be used around the world in this century,” she said.

Miami-Dade County has become a Center for Climate Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Last year the County hosted its first startup and residence program – a blue-green technology startup –called the Seaworthy Collective.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava

Cava’s administration is also aggressively deploying solar energy, including at major County buildings. They recently unveiled the largest solar panel installation on a County facility at the North Dade Regional Library, and they plan to go solar at 20 more facilities.

“Doubling down on zero waste – my newest passion,” said Mayor Cava as she introduced multiple programs to fight climate change and reverse decades of pollution, prevent flooding, and more. These initiatives include Building Efficiency 305, Connect 2 Protect, and the County's commitment to the international Race to Zero – joining over 4,500 other governments, businesses, investors, and academic institutions.

NIH's Mission to Address the Health Effects of Climate Change.

Climate change affects us unequally, expressed Dr. Gwen Collman, Director of the Office of Scientific Coordination, Planning, and Evaluation (SCOPE) the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Despite the fact that communities all across the world are being impacted by climate change, some groups of people are being affected in different capacities. Under-served populations with health disparities such as communities of color or low-income populations, exposed workers, and persons with disabilities or medical conditions, among others, are affected at a higher rate.

These groups of people have different exposures; they have different responses because of the different vulnerabilities that they face. “We need to understand those differences,” she said.

“We need to think about that when we are doing research, when we are collecting data, looking at problems, and looking at solutions, because we want the solutions and actions that we can put forward to be tailored and to be able to be customized to the local level, to the communities, and to the people who need it most.”

Dr. Collman recognized that although NIH has supported climate research for a couple of decades but at a low demand level.

NIH implemented a Climate Change and Health Initiative (CCHI) with goals aimed at reducing health threats across the lifespan and fostering health resilience in individuals, communities, and nations worldwide, with a particular focus on those who are most vulnerable.

Dr. Gwen Collman

The initiative will foster opportunities for a community comprised of distinguished scientists, trainees, and research implementation specialists to engage in ongoing and meaningful dialogue with policymakers, industry and technology leaders, diverse communities, and other stakeholders, resulting in collaborative and revolutionary discoveries such as the direct and indirect causes or impacts of climate.

The CCHI will be led by 7 NIH Institute and Center Directors from the National Institute of

Environmental Health Sciences and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to the National Institute of Mental Health. 

Dr. Collman places a high emphasis on community engagement and ensuring accessibility as the most crucial aspect. 

The symposium also offered four-poster awards to students, with the first place receiving $1,500; and the runner-up receiving $1,000.
Medical Campus
  • Winner: Haoyue Sheng.
  • Runner-up: Chitvan Killawala.
Coral Gables/Rosenstiel Campuses
  • Winner: Lamis Amer.
  • Runners-up: Gabrielle Hooper & Chris Thuo.
Written by Deycha Torres Hernández
Published on April 19, 2023