Archive for April 2008

We’ve only just begun

This year’s National Public Health Week might have ended, but our work to keep the connections between climate change and health in the spotlight has just gotten started.

First and foremost, APHA would like to thank the many people, advocates, workers, policy-makers, organizations, institutions and businesses that helped make National Public Health Week 2008 a resounding success. Thousands of individuals, groups and organizations got involved and signed the Healthy Climate Pledge, joined as official partners, downloaded resources and toolkits, and planned community events.

The week also brought a wealth of attention to the intersections between climate change and the health of our communities. Resolutions recognizing the health impacts of climate were introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate to coincide with NPHW. Two congressional hearings were also held on the topic, with APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin testifying for the House hearing and several other APHA members appearing as witnesses for both the House and Senate hearings. Along with all of the activity on the Hill, people from coast to coast read how a changing climate will impact their well-being, thanks to media coverage in outlets such as Time magazine and USA Today.

And be sure to check out The Nation’s Health next month for a wrap-up of NPHW events held across the country.

Of course, there’s no reason why we can’t make the climate change activities of National Public Health Week last all year round — after all, saving the planet is no small task. APHA will be continuing its work to unite and strengthen public health’s voice in the climate change discussion and needs your continued help and support. That means there’s still plenty of time to visit the National Public Health Week Web site to download toolkits on how to engage your community, as well as to sign our Healthy Climate Pledge or lend your organization’s support to the Blueprint. Also, be on the lookout for APHA Action Alerts asking you to let your representatives hear from you about your support for national legislation aimed at reducing our national climate change contribution.

Here at APHA, we’re in this for the long haul and hope you’ll be joining us for the (environmentally friendly, health-promoting, awareness-building) ride.

Green Revolution

If you can’t get your fill of info on going green, be sure to visit recent National Public Health Week blog entries on Revolution Health. There you’ll find posts from Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA, on climate change and health.

Home improvement that pays you back

There are lots of folks telling you to do something to make your home more “green” these days. As a home efficiency expert at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there is only one measurable, cost-effective way to make your home greener and pay yourself back for the effort: make your home more energy efficient. Energy efficiency not only pays you back with lower energy bills, it also improves comfort and helps you go green by lowering your carbon footprint.

OK, the next question is: how do I start? At EPA, we usually say the easy first step is installing energy efficient lighting, like compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). You can then buy ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances and home electronics, which is easy to do and effective no matter where you live.

The next thing to improve is your home’s envelope — the outer walls, ceiling, floors, windows and doors. Improving your home’s envelope means sealing up the places around your home where air leaks in or out and then adding insulation in places that are easy and cost effective. The attic and the basement as well as crawlspaces are usually best places to start. And if you’re handy, you can do these projects yourself. ENERGY STAR has a free “Do-it-yourself Guide to Sealing and Insulating Your Home” on their Web site. Alternatively, you may want to hire an advanced home energy contractor to do the work.

Finally, you can tackle your heating and cooling system, including your duct work. Most of this work should be hired out to a professional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contactor. Be sure to ask them if they check, seal and insulate ducts. If your system is more than 15 years old and needs replacement, that is a good opportunity to make an efficiency upgrade to the system.

For more information on all these improvements and other free online tools, check out the ENERGY STAR Web site.

Doug Anderson
National Project Manager

Work it!

More and more people are taking their green philosophy and practices to work. They refuse to check their morals and beliefs at the door and are helping businesses take the lead on climate change.

Likewise, businesses are finding that incorporating green practices can save them money, reduce liability, increase the health and well-being of occupants, and raise employee performance.

Thus, National Public Health Week is the perfect time to look at the connections between climate change, health and your workplace. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions result from commercial office buildings. In fact, that is the largest segment of emissions in Arlington, Va. — not transportation, surprisingly.

Here in Arlington, under the leadership of Paul Ferguson and the Arlington County Board, we formed the Fresh Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions program, commonly known as Fresh AIRE. The program is designed to help businesses and residents save money and leave a lighter footprint on the environment through energy efficiency and green building, recycling, mass transit and recycling.

Here are a few tips for your office to get you moving in the right direction and to help you do your part!

1. Form a green team and set organizational goals.
2. Evaluate your current practices (bulk purchasing, recycling, energy conservation, water conservation, etc). Changing some of these practices are good for the planet and can save you money in the process.
3. Create an action plan.
4. Dive in!

Some ideas:

1. Use reusable mugs, plates and flatware.
2. Implement double-sided printing as the rule, rather than the exception.
3. Make use of tap water or filtered tap water rather than bottles.
4. Use mass transit, ride your bike and walk to work.
5. Set your computer monitor to sleep after 10 minutes, not screen save.
6. Monitor your heating, cooling and water bills. If they’re included in your rent, consider forming an entire building green team to monitor overall building performance with the goal of reducing energy, water and waste.
7. Evaluate Energy Star efficiency standards as well as green building standards for commercial buildings, known as the LEED system, for possible application to your office to show your commitment.

Adam Segel-Moss, LEED AP
Green Building Outreach Coordinator, Fresh AIRE
Arlington County, Va., Department of Environmental Services

Friendly foods, happy planet

When it comes to climate change, we don’t hear nearly enough about food.

Consider this: About one-third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from actions related to food production, specifically agriculture and land use. And that one-third doesn’t include emissions from food processing, transportation, refrigeration, cooking and waste. Lucky for us, eating better for the climate is usually a win-win situation, with co-benefits for our health and the environment.

The most important way to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions is to cut back on beef and dairy. About 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, mostly due to cow belching (for real!) and deforestation to raise cattle and feed. In fact, a recent Lancet article suggests that to stabilize livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions at 2005 levels by 2050 (a goal well beneath the 80 percent emissions cuts promoted by many advocates and presidential candidates), Americans would need to eat nearly two-thirds less meat. Not ready to go that far? Could you do it once a week? As a start, consider joining the Meatless Monday campaign to cut back by 15 percent.

People often ask me: “Which would you rather, local or organic?” Here I respond: “Both” and “It depends.” We need a lot more U.S.-based data to help prioritize food choices, but the answer will always vary depending on specifics of production, location, season, etc.

A good goal is to seek out foods that are local AND organic AND in season. Plus, try for foods that are minimally processed, unpackaged, made without manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, need little refrigeration or cooking, and contain few or no animal products. Avoid unseasonal foods transported by air or raised in greenhouses. Also, cut back on food waste by looking for long shelf-life foods as well as foods you love to eat. One way to satisfy a lot of these criteria: find and come on out to your local farmers’ market! (By bike, of course.)

Going beyond the individual level to reduce our food-related greenhouse gas emissions, a more comprehensive public health approach includes pushing for agricultural policies that promote sustainable food production, distribution and affordability. It includes work to change the incentives for food overproduction. It includes research and lifecycle analysis, plus improved food labeling to help consumers make informed choices. Overall, we need food and agriculture concerns to be better integrated into our national climate change policy.

This Wednesday of National Public Health Week, on “Eat Differently” day, join APHA in its commitment to a healthy, sustainable food system and consider making at least one dietary change to improve your health and reduce your carbon footprint.

Roni Neff, PhD
Research Director
Center for a Livable Future,
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

The road less traveled

As National Public Health Week gets rolling, I am excited that we at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) are again a partner. RTC already knows the link between providing people with safe places to be active and reaping the benefits of a healthier community. But did you know that trails and health also come together to fight climate change?

The American public is in a unique position to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases while increasing physical activity by walking and biking more and driving less. This kind of “active transportation” is a twofer — not only are you decreasing your carbon output, you’re getting healthier at the same time.

Changing your travel habits is easier than you think. Nearly half of all trips in the United States are three miles or less, but the vast majority of these trips are taken by car. Since Tuesday’s Healthy Climate Pledge behavior is to “travel differently,” I urge you to rethink how you make that short trip to the store or commute to the office, and consider walking or bicycling instead of driving.

Think of it this way: a three-mile bike ride will take the average person less than 20 minutes to complete. If you ride your bike there and back, you’ve already exceeded the surgeon general’s recommended 30 minutes of physical activity for the day!

To help you make this even easier (and even more fun), RTC provides a trail search engine tool on our home page, available free to the public. Click “Find a Trail” and let the adventure begin. You might find a trail in your area that will take you to the grocery store, the movies or out to dinner. I have!

Once you discover the pleasure in traveling differently, we hope you’ll let us know by taking our Burn Calories, Not Carbon!™ Pledge. Taking the pledge lets you make a personal commitment to walking and biking more and driving less. You can also learn more about our efforts to provide America’s communities with rail-trails and other infrastructures that provide us with safe, healthy and sustainable transportation choices.

I hope to see you “traveling differently” out on the rail-trails with me this spring. Together, we can improve the health of our people and our planet.

Keith Laughlin
President, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Preparing for an uncertain future

As we kick off National Public Health Week, we join the World Health Organization in focusing on climate change and health. And we cannot afford to wait to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change around the globe.

Over the past several years, we have seen a major focus on public health preparedness for disasters, terrorism and other public health emergencies. It’s time for climate change to join the list.

Climate change poses risks to human health in many ways, from severe weather events and the emergence of new disease patterns, to impacts on food and water supplies. Additionally, we know that already vulnerable populations will face an even higher risk of suffering poor health effects under climate change’s impacts.

This year, we saw unprecedented numbers of tornadoes in the mid-portion of the United States during the month of February, with resultant damage to homes and infrastructures. In recent summers, we have seen heat waves in large cities leading to multiple heat-related deaths, particularly among elderly persons who were unable to leave their homes to seek shelter in cooler places. We do not yet know how climate change may affect the spread of disease, but we do know that it is likely to affect animal species and their migration patterns and geographic distribution.

However, the work that we have done in preparing for disasters and other public health emergencies can help us in addressing problems that we are seeing related to climate change. We can use the knowledge and skills that we have developed to improve surveillance of emerging diseases and the health effects of climate change; provide temporary shelter for people who are evacuated from their homes, including those who have complex health problems or impairments that restrict their ability to perform daily activities; and to communicate effectively with our communities about preparedness, risks and mitigation of severe weather events.

We will not easily solve the problems created by climate change, but we can prepare for its health effects and work to ensure that we are protecting the health of all people.

Sign on to the Health Climate Pledge today and agree to do your part to “be prepared” for climate change.

Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN
President, APHA

A greenprint for healthy living

After several months of convening conversations involving some of the nation’s leading public health and climate change experts, APHA unveiled its first-ever blueprint for combating the health impacts of climate change this past weekend.

The blueprint was rolled out during the course of two press events, which were covered by more than 70 reporters! Featured at the events were Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA, Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Edward Maibach, professor and director of the Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research at George Mason University, and Dr. Jonathan Patz, a widely recognized expert on the health effects of global environmental change and a lead author of reports from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The blueprint’s top recommendations for the public health community call for:

  • Education and outreach, working to ensure that public health concerns are included in policies and programs related to climate change;
  • Research, such as vulnerability assessments for specific communities and federally funded analyses of how the health impacts vary by region and population;
  • Advocacy, including helping decision-makers understand the climate-health connection and strengthening the capacity of the public health work force to prepare and respond;
  • Support of best practices that build on existing public health programs that can help address climate change and that promote the development of healthy communities; and
  • Healthy behaviors such as helping the public health system go green, and walking or biking instead of driving a car, as well as reducing, reusing and recycling.

Recommendations for the public are outlined as part of a Healthy Climate Pledge that individuals around the country will commit to during National Public Health Week and beyond. The public is asked to:

  • Be prepared
  • Travel differently
  • Eat differently
  • Green their workplaces
  • Green their homes

Get involved today by downloading the recommendations for the public health community and signing on to the Healthy Climate Pledge.

Public health goes green

Check out the second story in an ongoing series on climate change and public health being published in The Nation’s Health newspaper. Highlighting what public health departments across the nation are doing to reduce their environmental footprints, the article also examines how climate change is becoming a major issue within the public health arena. The article will also be published later this month on The Nation’s Health Web site.