The February 16 Climate & Health Meeting in Atlanta brought together more than 350 scientists and public health professionals to explore the science of climate change, the consequences to public health and possible solutions. Video of the day’s sessions is available online.
“Scientists have been warning us for many years that tropical diseases, extreme weather and risks to our global food system caused by the climate crisis are posing ever more dire threats to human health,” Gore wrote in a blog post for the Climate Reality Project that he founded. “The need for science and health professionals to explore and discuss the impact the climate crisis is having on global health should not be a political issue. The time to act is now.”
Gore and the American Public Health Association organized the meeting that was co-hosted by the UW-Madison Global Health Institute. GHI Director Jonathan Patz led a morning panel on the state of climate change science. He has called climate change the most important environmental public health challenge of our time. His team is working to quantify health benefits of climate policy and offer solutions that will benefit human health and the planet.
This story appeared first at wisc.edu.
The drumbeat calling scientists to share their work with the public is as loud as ever, and Tracey Holloway is happy to answer. It’s just that education isn’t exactly what she’s offering.
She’s got satellites.
“We have hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of data from satellites that have been up in space for over 10 years,” says Holloway, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and member of the GHI Advisory Committee. “And we know people have problems they want to solve. And we want to know how we can help.”
Holloway leads a group of 13 researchers drawn together as NASA’s Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team (HAQAST) who are trying to step outside their community of atmospheric scientists and satellite experts to provide space-based tools to relative laypeople — and to put those new users in a position to shape the way satellite data is collected and used.
Holloway presented HAQAST’s brand of public engagement here Feb. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“The traditional model of science outreach moves in one direction: scientists disseminating information,” says Holloway. “What’s unusual about our experience with HAQAST is that we’re building a two-way dialogue to move the research along and to make sure that the research is addressing questions of social value.”
The newest Earth-observing satellites deployed by NASA and other agencies around the world are streaming back information about the air we breathe in nearly real time, and with coverage that dwarfs ground-based sensors. They can see atmospheric pollutants like nitrogen dioxide — NO2, a lung irritant that also forms the problematic greenhouse gas ozone — and dust and smoke from storms and fires.
“A big question is how air quality is changing in areas where we don’t have ground monitors,” says Holloway. “States in the Western U.S. may only have one or two monitors, and only in major cities. But there are two instruments in space that can see NO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, and they see the whole world once a day.”
That could be a boon for lawyers, urban planners and doctors tasked with air pollution management and public health decisions trying to track air quality shifts in rural and even suburban areas. But while the satellites take in all the Earth in 24 hours, it can be tough for potential data customers to keep track of cutting-edge science.
“What’s unusual about our experience with HAQAST is that we’re building a two-way dialogue to move the research along and to make sure that the research is addressing questions of social value.”
“The mission for these folks is to do their job — to keep the air clean, to develop good policies, to protect public health, to understand the problem so they can solve it,” says Holloway. “We don’t want to expect them to read our scientific journals, trying to figure out how to use novel data sources in new ways.”
HAQAST is. And their brand of public outreach involves special issues of industry magazines, visits to meetings of professional organizations and state consortiums, social media, and visits with individual agencies and small groups in an effort to remove any and all barriers.
“A lot of people have no idea where the front door is: ‘Can you just call up a scientist?’“ says Holloway. “And they really don’t know if you can ask a scientist to get something you need. We want those questions.”
Planning a new satellite and shooting it into orbit is not a casual enterprise. It takes years, presents hard decisions about which capabilities are worth adding or subtracting, and requires a commitment from researchers like Holloway to interpret — and find new ways to use — the resulting data. NASA’s HAQAST effort helps identify data that users will value, and how to make the best use of the instruments that are already up in space.
“I’m promoting super high-value data that’s readily available online, but I also want those users to help guide our next research questions,” Holloway says. “It takes time to go from a good idea to a published research study — or another instrument in space. Nobody should have to wait 10 years to know how to use data from new-generation satellites.”
“Science is about having good ideas and fresh perspectives to solve problems. It’s hard to do that if you don’t expose yourself to new people and different viewpoints.”
Input from fire chiefs may help NASA provide real-time tracking of smoke plumes from wildfires, and meetings with air quality workers in Maricopa County, Arizona, sparked work by one of Holloway’s graduate students to sharpen the way satellite measurements of formaldehyde in the air are used to track pollutants that can cause smog, make people sick and contribute to climate change.
Stepping outside their usual scientific circles puts the HAQAST members in touch with people who may know plenty about air quality, but from the perspective of a business or policy-maker or doctor or community group, according to Holloway.
“Those members of the public deserve more credit for what their expertise can contribute to the scientific enterprise,” she says. “Science is about having good ideas and fresh perspectives to solve problems. It’s hard to do that if you don’t expose yourself to new people and different viewpoints.”
By Chris Barncard, University Communications/ February 16, 2017
Join the conversation at #ClimateChangesHealth
Audiences in Wisconsin will be able to listen in when world experts explore the science, consequences and health opportunities of climate change at Thursday’s Climate & Health Meeting in Atlanta.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Global Health Institute (GHI) joins former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the American Public Health Association (APHA), the Climate Reality Project, global health programs at the University of Washington and Harvard, and Howard Frumkin, former director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, to host the meeting that will be livestreamed beginning at 7 a.m. (CT), Thursday, February 16 with Gore’s opening keynote at 8:30.
The meeting provides a platform for the public health and climate communities to come together to find solutions. GHI Director Jonathan Patz, who has called climate change the biggest challenge – and opportunity — for human and planetary health, welcomes the conversation, and after Gore’s opening keynote, will moderate the opening panel, “Connecting Climate Change and Public Health: State of the Science.”
“Global climate change is one of the most pressing health crises of our time,” says Patz, the John Holton Chair in Health and the Environment with appointments in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Population Health Sciences. “And it threatens to undermine many substantial health gains across the world. The APHA has declared 2017 the year of climate change and health, and this meeting marks the first in a series of events that will culminate at the annual APHA conference in November, which is anticipated to be a truly defining moment,” Patz says.
Gore, who is founder and chairman of the Climate Reality Project, was a prime mover in organizing the meeting at the nonprofit Carter Center in Atlanta. “Health professionals urgently need the very best science in order to protect the public, and climate science has increasingly critical implications for their day-to-day work,” he said in a press release. “With more and more hot days, which exacerbate the proliferation of the Zika virus and other public health threats, we cannot afford to waste any more time.” The one-day meeting replaces a three-day conference that was cancelled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The meeting comes as 2016, for the third consecutive year, set a heat record, and 16 of the 17 hottest years have occurred since 2001. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s climate scientists agree that climate change is linked to human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases. Increasing temperatures, extreme weather and rising sea levels – all connected to climate change – are accelerating global health problems, from malnutrition to the transmission of disease.
For Patz, addressing climate change offers an unprecedented opportunity to benefit human health. “Global health and the global climate are inseparable,” he says. “Moving toward greenhouse gas emissions policies can yield some of our greatest public health benefits, especially related to chronic diseases.” Patz’s research team at UW-Madison continues to build this evidence.
Brief schedule (CT):
8:30 a.m. Keynote Presentation: Vice President Al Gore, founder and chairman, The Climate Reality Project
9:15 a.m. Panel: Connecting Climate Change and Public Health: State of the Science, Moderator GHI Director Jonathan Patz
10:30 a.m. Special Keynote: Sir Andy Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
11:05 a.m. Special Keynote: Laura Turner Seydel, The Turner Foundation, Mothers and Others for Clean Air
11:15 a.m. Special Keynote: Stephanie Benfield, Office of Sustainability, City of Atlanta
11:50 a.m. Panel: Protecting Public Health from Climate-Related Threats: Lessons From Across the Globe
1:15 p.m. Panel: Protecting Public Health From Climate Related threats: From Science to Practice in the United States
2:45 p.m. Panel: Communicating the Climate-Health Connection
3:45 p.m. Closing Remarks: Al Gore
Find full agenda details here.
By Ann Grauvogl/ February 14, 2017