Climate Change, Public Health and Environmental Justice: Caring for Our Most Vulnerable Communities
About the Author: Lesley Jantarasami has worked in the Climate Change Division of the U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation for over 7 years to integrate scientific information to inform policy on climate change risks to human health and the environment. Lesley was a lead author on the interagency Climate Change and Human Health Assessment report published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. She also serves as the Division’s environmental justice and tribal coordinator, managing projects to identify and communicate climate change risks to minority, low-income, and indigenous populations.
Some hear the word vulnerable and think “that’s not me.”
Many people don’t think of themselves as being vulnerable because the word can conjure images of people living in other parts of the world, in other economic situations, or with different life stories and experiences.
But the U.S. Climate and Health assessment, recently released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, found that every American is vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change at some point in their lives. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you care about, climate change affects you. Climate change affects everyone’s health because it threatens our access to clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food, and shelter.
And though we are all vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, some groups are disproportionately affected. In other words, there are many factors that can contribute to someone being less able to prepare for, respond to, and cope with the impacts of climate change on health, and these factors thus increase vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change. For people of color, low-income communities, immigrants, and people who are not fluent in English, these factors can include:
- living in areas particularly vulnerable to climate change (like along the coast);
- coping with higher levels of existing health risks when compared to other groups;
- living in low-income communities with limited access to healthcare services;
- having high rates of uninsured individuals who have difficulty accessing quality healthcare;
- having limited availability of information and resources in a person’s native language; and
- having less ability to relocate or rebuild after a disaster.
Climate-related health challenges are an environmental justice issue because certain communities that already experience multiple environmental health burdens are also disproportionately affected by climate change. These groups are less able than others to adapt to or recover from climate change impacts. Understanding our shared vulnerabilities to climate change can help people and communities plan for risks, adapt to changes, and protect health.
EPA received requests from community leaders for products that would help them inform and educate their community about the potential impacts of climate change on their health. In response to this need, EPA recently posted communication materials that summarize key points from the U.S. Climate and Health Assessment.
We’ve created communication materials for a variety of other populations disproportionately affected by climate change, including, indigenous people, pregnant women, children, older adults, occupational groups, people with pre-existing health conditions and people with disabilities.
These informational materials are designed to be easy to adapt for your needs and are accessible to a range of audiences that want to know more about how climate change health risks are connected to environmental justice concerns.
Also, you can join EPA on January 17, 2017 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time for a webinar that will introduce these communications materials and discuss how they can be used to inform your conversations about climate change health risks and connections to environmental justice concerns. Please register for the webinar here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/climate-change-health-environmental-justice-tickets-30148534077
We hope you find these materials useful and we look forward to speaking with all of you during our upcoming webinar!
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