Online Panel Discussion on Climate Change and Public Health | #ClimateofChange

On the 12th November, YEE co-hosted second webinar of the  #ClimateofChange series, along with the EEB and Youth4Nature – this time on climate change and public health. What is the Climate of Change and how did it go? 

The Climate of Change project is a pan-European campaign to build a better future for climate-induced migrants, the human face of climate change. The event provided fascinating insight into the important intersections between the health of the planet and our own physical and mental health – in case you weren’t able to make it, you can watch it here or read the following summary, and if you did manage to join us and want to learn more about the topic, then we have assembled some additional resources for you below!

Chloé ten Brink, our Youth Advocacy Coordinator, moderated the webinar and guided participants through the discussion as our wonderful range of speakers called upon their experiences and knowledge to provide incredibly thought-provoking insight into the relations between climate change and gender, economic inequality, and mental health, among many others.

Our first speaker was Vijoleta Gordeljevic, the current Health and Climate Change Coordinator at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). She managed to give an incredibly clear but densely informative overview of the health impacts of climate change, pointing out that although it may not be the most obvious danger to health, its indirect effects include the increased risk of many diseases, cardiovascular failure, and malnutrition, both from subtle changes like higher temperatures and severe weather events like floods. Even in Europe, we have 790 000 excess deaths due to ambient air pollution annually! However, she also stressed that there is so much to win for public health by tackling climate change. Phasing out fossil fuels or reducing the amount of meat we consume will both reduce our GHG emissions as well as greatly improve human health.

Our second speaker was Dr Kathleen Mar, the leader of ClimAct at IASS Potsdam and a Senior Associate at Women Leaders for Planetary Health. She explained that the effects of climate change are gendered, with women and girls being disproportionately impacted. Events such as floods or droughts exacerbate women’s poverty and increase the burden of unpaid domestic and care work, which tends to mostly fall upon women. However, similarly to Vijoleta, Kathleen strove to emphasise the positive flip-side to this – although women are currently excluded from economic activity and decision-making, if we correct this then we only have incredible resources to gain in the fight against climate change. Hence, climate change solutions must also be gender-just, seeking to provide equal access and benefits to women and to alleviate or compensate their work burden.

Next up, we heard from Pearl Anne Ante-Testard, co-founder of PlaHNet and PhD Candidate at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers. She began by summing up the fundamental concept of planetary health by explaining beautifully that “we won’t have healthy humans if we don’t have a healthy planet – so in this way we are treating the planet like a patient”. This holistic approach is all about realising that human health is completely dependent on the health of the natural systems around us. Planetary health involves a convergence of numerous academic fields and encourages the medical profession in particular to pro-actively look to areas like ecology in order to prepare in advance for climate-change induced health problems – as they say, prevention is better than cure! 😉

Finally, we listened to Ruby and Christabel Reed, co-founders and co-directors of Advaya, a global platform for transformative experiences and alternative education. Ruby talked us through the fact that in order to combat climate change, we have to completely transform the systems of domination over the environment that are causing it in the first place. In doing so, we must return to a partnership paradigm, which centres on the fact that the more we nourish our communities and environments the more they can nourish us in return. Christabel then presented the positive points for engaging in this type of activism, from building community and eco-system well-being, to that of individuals. Among her many suggestions were participatory democracy and supporting local initiatives, as well as nine tips for improving mental health in the face of eco-anxiety, which can affect young people in particular, such as being present in nature and meditative practice.

The rest of the webinar saw our panellists responding to each other, and then questions from our many attendees, and delving further into each of these topics. One of the most fascinating aspects of this was how many of our speakers independently came back to the same themes again and again. They all argued that the impacts of climate change, including on health, affect the most vulnerable the most, and Pearl emphasised how this occurs both nationally and globally. Another point stressed continually was the intersectional nature of climate change and public health – but also gender, youth etc. – and so how we need to recognise that the solutions must also reflect this by being fully inclusive at all stages. Ultimately, all of our speakers always returned in this way to the consequences that the hard information they were presenting had on concrete action, creating an event that was at once enlightening and empowering.

Did this summary or the webinar leave you hungry for more? Why not start with these amazing resources on climate change and health!

Want more hard-boiled facts about what climate change really means for health? There’s no greater authority than the WHO itself!

Kathleen reminded us that when it comes to climate change, women are not just victims but leaders too! Listen to their experiences first-hand in this podcast

Pearl’s group PlaHNet have been running webinars lately all about these issues – watch them back for a more in-depth look at planetary health.

In her tips on individual well-being, Christabel also mentioned learning to sit with and enjoy nature and gave a shout-out to Jon Young’s TED talk!

Young people are becoming increasingly overwhelmed with ‘eco-anxiety’ – read expert Caroline Hickman’s article on what you can do about it.

Are you a policy nerd like us? Multiple UN bodies created this influential document on the “one world, one health” approach – similar to planetary health.

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