Long Term Planning for Climate Change: What Local Public Health Should Consider Moving Forward

By Andrew Elligers, JD, MA, Senior Program Analyst, Environmental Health, NACCHO, and Laura Runnels, MPH, CPH, Senior Program Analyst, Accreditation Preparation and Quality Improvement, NACCHO

This is the third part of a series of interviews with local health department staff who will present at the 2014 Preparedness Summit. Deborah Radi, Supervisor, Education, Exercises & Planning Unit, Office of Emergency Preparedness, Minnesota Department of Health, and Charlene Contreras, Chief Environmental Health Specialist, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Division, will be participating in an Ignite session called “Adaptation Planning: Preparedness and Climate Change.” Ignite session presenters are encouraged to “enlighten us, but make it quick” by creating “shows” that are light on text, generous on graphics, tell a compelling story, and share ideas. Each Ignite session will consist of five to six presentations and a facilitated discussion to encourage audience members and presenters to identify common themes across the presentations, elicit questions for further discussion, and generate ideas for applying lessons learned in current preparedness topics. At the session, Deborah and Charlene will be joined by Jeff Phillips, Climate and Health Program Manager, Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Matt Davis, Senior Program Specialist, Multnomah County Environmental Health.

Climate change is transforming the landscape of public health preparedness planning by altering the severity, frequency, and types of challenges faced by local public health professionals and their partners. The health considerations associated with changing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, extreme weather events, and other aspects of climate change are myriad and complex. The shifting distribution and prevalence of infectious disease, increased exposure to pollutants, higher rates of injuries, as well as a range of impacts to mental health are just a few of the public health challenges caused by climate change. Much more must and can be done to help health departments prepare for and address the health effects of climate change.

We asked Deborah and Charlene to imagine that they found themselves on an elevator with an important funder. We then asked them to consider what innovative adaptation planning strategy they would attempt to sell this funder on, and why.

Charlene Contreras, Chief Environmental Health Specialist, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Division

Charlene Contreras, Chief Environmental Health Specialist, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Division

Charlene: The stresses and pressures of modern life and the size of urban populations can make people feel disconnected. These same stresses—coupled with the threat of a changing climate which will continue to marshal adverse health effects on wide segments of the population—leave many individuals feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and too paralyzed to take any kind of action. In response to these pressures investors, policymakers, health officials, planners, designers, developers, and community groups should all work together to foster a shared sense of community.

While climate change is a global problem, many solutions can be found at the local level. Investing in neighborhood scale sustainability projects that create healthy, sustainable, and resilient communities is one of the best places to begin tackling the problems associated with climate change. Investments in projects like complete streets, rain gardens, community hubs, and urban greening are an effective way to minimize hazards, increase accessibility, encourage community interaction, and enhance the look and feel of the local environment. These small local projects generate significant momentum, excitement, and imagination that can trigger large scale movements around renewable energy, water conservation, and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Climate change adaptation efforts are not the responsibility of any single organization or government. Funding development that requires academic integration and partnerships between cities, utilities, and communities also brings together the right people that are positioned to make changes. These types of collaborative local initiatives form synergy, and help build momentum for the productive enhancement of local communities. Through supporting local efforts with funding, best practices, guidance, and advocacy campaigns, it is possible to produce effective green infrastructure, foster robust community engagement, and spur on entrepreneurship that will allow communities to adapt and thrive.

Deborah Radi, Supervisor, Education, Exercises & Planning Unit, Office of Emergency Preparedness, Minnesota Department of Health

Deborah Radi, Supervisor, Education, Exercises & Planning Unit, Office of Emergency Preparedness, Minnesota Department of Health

Deborah: The Minnesota Department of Health advocates for grassroots funded programs that would engage the public in developing and implementing climate change adaptation strategies. Activating informed and motivated community groups is a proven strategy for achieving change. MDH has seen passionate community groups make significant changes in how individuals and elected officials tackle health and human services issues. Engaging potentially impacted communities is essential for effective program implementation, and this also promotes health equity.

Funders could make an impact on climate change adaptation by supporting local groups who will call their neighbors to act, while also demanding that their elected officials continue to be responsible planners. Passionate grassroots groups would be able to promote individual and community climate adaptation efforts through the development of clear, succinct, action-oriented messages with examples of specific activities that the average person can do.

Funders could also make a difference by supporting livable communities designed to implement identified climate adaptation strategies that support public health and reduce the impact of disasters related to climate change. Communities should be encouraged to consider climate change adaptation in all areas of planning, and incentive funding could advance the known strategies such as increased green spaces, restored wetlands, accessible walking and bike paths, and the promotion of farmers’ markets.

Join us at the 2014 Preparedness Summit and attend the Adaptation Planning: Preparedness and Climate Change Ignite session on Tuesday April 1st from 3:30 – 5pm. View the full Summit schedule to see what other sessions are in store at this year’s event.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *