NEHA October 2022 Journal of Environmental Health

36 Volume 85 • Number 3 A D VANC EME N T O F T H E PRACTICE  D I R E C T F R OM e c o Am e r i c a Robert Perkowitz The United Nations, Climate Change, Environmental Health, and You The leading authority globally on climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) within the United Nations. Every 5 years, the panel releases an extensive 3-part assessment on climate change that explores the science, the impacts, and the solutions. In February 2022, IPCC released findings from Working Group II as part of its Sixth Assessment Report. The Working Group II report—3,675 pages long itself—focused on climate change impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities. So, what do these findings mean for environmental health and you? The Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report chronicles how climate change impacts human systems, including water scarcity and food production; health and well-being; and cities, settlements, and infrastructure. These systems span both the natural and built environment and are closely or directly related to the environmental health field. The diversity of environmental health professionals ranges from inspectors who monitor our air, water, and food, to city planners who implement design strategies that keep us safe and mitigate the risk of harm around us. Environmental health professionals are at the core of public health, and therefore, also at the core of climate change solutions. The IPCC (2022) report states with “very high” confidence that “climate change has negatively a“ected human health and wellbeing in North America.” We all see and feel the impacts of our changing climate but like many other environmental health challenges, risks and consequences vary by population. Factors including age, gender, location, and socioeconomic status influence how heavily the burden of climate change impacts various groups of people (IPCC, 2022). Within the U.S., communities of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change. For example, Black and African American individuals are more likely to live in areas with the highest projected increase in deaths from extreme temperatures due to climate change (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2021). Additional IPCC health projections include “very high” confidence that morbidity will be impacted by mean temperatures and air pollution. Mortality will be impacted by severe windstorms. Morbidity and mortality will be impacted by extreme heat (IPCC, 2022). We see these impacts played out in our own communities. Many people in the U.S. report that they have already experienced the impacts of climate change. For example, 79% of survey respondents report having noticed more extreme heat in the past few years (Hill, 2021). And a majority of people in the U.S.— especially in the West—report noticing more severe wildfires in the past few years (Hill, 2021). From a national poll, 78% of respondents indicated that they have been personally impacted by extreme weather in the last 5 years (NPR et al., 2022). At the same time from a di“erent survey, 96% of U.S. adult respondents agree that we have a right to live in a healthy environment with clean air and water (Hill, 2021b). What actions can we take to get there? What can environmental health professionals do? The most important thing you can do to help slow, stop, and reverse climate change is to communicate, especially about the health risks. From a 2022 survey, 60% of respondents say they are curious about climate change (Hill, 2022a). We need to turn that curiosity into action. Furthermore, 61% of people in the U.S. surveyed associate heat Ed i tor ’s Not e : The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) strives to provide up-to-date and relevant information on environmental health and to build partnerships in the profession. In pursuit of these goals, we feature this column from ecoAmerica whose mission is to build public support and political resolve for climate solutions. NEHA is an ocial partner of ecoAmerica and works closely with their Climate for Health Program, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health. The conclusions in this column are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the ocial position of NEHA. Nicole Hill is the research and marketing manager for ecoAmerica. Robert Perkowitz is the founder and president of ecoAmerica. Nicole Hill, MPH