Environmental Health Leadership on Climate Solutions Amidst COVID-19.

Author:Perkowitz, Robert M.
Position:DIRECT FROM ecoAmerica

Editor's Note: 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 official 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 official position of NEHA.

Robert Perkowitz is the founder and president of ecoAmerica, Meighen Speiser is the executive director of ecoAmerica, and Rebecca Rehr is the director of ecoAmerica's Climate for Health Program. Dr. Natasha DeJarnett is the interim associate director of Program and Partnership Development at NEHA.

We are orienting ourselves to a new world. We are amidst a global pandemic and economic contraction, and are immediately concerned about our families, communities, and futures. As our perspectives are narrowed, however, by the urgency of COVID-19, our other big challenges, especially the climate health emergency, have not gone away.

If we look at addressing these challenges in tandem, the COVID-19 crisis provides useful guidance for addressing our climate health emergency. The stimulus money we are indebting ourselves with has the potential to go a long way to solving climate change. Comprehensive COVID-19 and economic solutions with a longer-term perspective can lead us to climate solutions--a more prosperous, healthy, thriving, and just America. It can reignite the true spirit of America's leadership.

Environmental health professionals have a critical role to play in climate leadership, especially at the local level. They are a trusted group of messengers who understand the science, as well as health impacts. Solutions to climate change lie in resiliency and adaptation initiatives in local governments, in food safety specialists adapting the field to prevent contamination and shortages, and working professionals bringing this message to their elected officials at all levels of government. Those of us who can continue to work on climate solutions during this time must. The consequences of inaction are too high.

What have we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that helps us better prepare for the slower moving threat of climate change?

* We can tackle monumental challenges: The most important lesson overall is that we can muster society, policies, and financial resources to quickly address problems of significant importance--namely our climate and health emergency. Once leadership listened to the experts and understood the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. acted with extraordinary speed and scale. Congress aligned and mustered up a $2 trillion action plan to address the immediate health and economic implications in less than two weeks. Climate solutions would actually cost less and provide greater health benefits.

* Timing matters: With COVID-19, quick action by health and governmental officials in places like Singapore flattened the curve. Delayed action by mere weeks in places like Italy and the U.S., however, has resulted in explosive outbreaks, increased mortality in patients, and harm to providers. The longer we wait to dedicate significant resources to mitigating and preparing for the climate health emergency, the more it will cost us both in lives and livelihoods.

* Crises highlight injustices in society: COVID-19 is shining a light on the health, economic, societal, and racial inequities embedded in our society. Systemic...

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