As climate change progresses, its consequences become as real as the air we breathe and the water we drink. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that two-thirds of Americans feel that the federal government is not doing enough to address the forthcoming health implications.
This unsettling poll shines a light on the intersection between public health and climate change action. Recognizing the convergence of the two is the most impactful step to ensure a healthy and sustainable planet now, and for generations to come. The first steps include elevating more voices in public health policy, recognizing climate change induced mental health effects and promoting education and resources through health marketing.
What the planet is facing poses a multifaceted threat to public health. Climate change brings a variety of negative health impacts to the table including heat-related illnesses, cardiovascular implications, reduced availability of food and clean drinking water and more. Addressing both challenges requires specific efforts at the individual, community, national and global levels.
But where do we start?
Public health policy addresses the threats that climate change poses. It does this by giving a voice to those passionate about and affected by climate change through stakeholder engagement, advisory committees, public hearings, public education and awareness and more. A 2019 study reported that the public health response to climate change was promising in areas of policy development through mobilizing partnerships and addressing health statuses and climate hazards.
Climate action necessitates integrating health considerations into climate policies and vice-versa. This can include policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or incentives that build a resilient healthcare infrastructure in case of extreme weather events. This approach will set a framework for action and room for response.
Policy pathways include supporting the growth of the American nuclear energy industry, which can push advancements towards producing clean, reliable and abundant energy while managing the industry’s waste. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg in aiding our planet’s well-being while mitigating the human health risks associated with climate change.
Our society must reckon with higher temperatures and the quality of the air we breathe. These challenges can result in climate anxiety — an awareness of climate-related obstacles that can lead to a chronic fear or worry about the state of the planet. This energy can be repurposed into driving change.
Starting small means supporting the growth of agricultural conservation programs to help farmers, ranchers and foresters preserve soil health, mitigate water pollution and create a sustainable habitat for wildlife. Going big means encouraging elected officials to focus on building a resilient and clean infrastructure. Investing time into these efforts will turn our climate anxieties into climate actions, allowing us and future generations to breathe easier knowing a more sustainable future is ahead.
Identifying the goals to ensure change for all is the easy part. Carrying out those goals, however, is where it gets tricky.
One branch of public health, health promotion, is the easiest way to encourage health improvements. This is a marketing strategy that promotes sustainable practices and infrastructure development that consider the needs of future generations, reducing the likelihood of short-term decision-making that can harm the environment and society.
Today’s digital age makes social media inescapable. Memes become movements, going viral is no longer uncommon and information spreads at the speed of light. As surprising as it sounds, the force that fuels our scrolling addiction is also the catalyst for a healthier planet.
Health marketing is a multidisciplinary form of public health that blends marketing and communications to deliver eye-catching and important health-related information to the public. Its purpose is to promote the educational links between public health and climate change, encourage sustainable and healthy life choices and advocate for policies and practices that reduce environmental risk. Just as hashtags unite communities and graphics catch the eyes of consumers, health marketing can ignite a movement for a greener and healthier future.
As we stand at the crossroads of a warming world, the intersection of public health and climate change is a necessity. This means embracing clean energy and sustainable technologies, favoring health policy reforms and empowering individuals to become stewards of their health and the environment.
Forging ahead with an unwavering commitment to public health and climate change action means understanding that the impacts of climate change reach far beyond melting glaciers and rising sea levels –– they also infiltrate our bodies and minds, affecting our health in profound ways.
Lily Yudis is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a health marketing intern with the American Conservation Coalition.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.