Contributed by Rachel Jacobson, ASAP Senior Program Manager
In September, I was haunted for days by this New York Times story about Casey Dailey’s death during Hurricane Harvey. Today, as I mourn the losses of the 63 people killed so far in the Camp Fire, I brace for notifications of additional “direct” deaths and for information about the hundreds more whose deaths may be “indirectly” attributable to this disaster. I grapple with understanding these losses, especially the “indirect deaths”, in the context of my role as an adaptation professional: to be able to articulate why they happened, how climate change is to blame, and what I can do to decrease the number of losses projected for the years ahead.
Personally, my motivation as an adaptation professional is to reduce lives lost from climate change. It’s incumbent upon me, and all of us, to ask ourselves how each of the strategies we use in our work affects how we achieve that goal. ASAP’s Values and Beliefs, elaborated through the Code of Ethics and Living Guide, implore us to be systems thinkers and apply co-benefits. Twelve years ago, the Stern Report made a compelling economic case for action. Last month’s IPCC report put our failure to act, and perhaps with it the failure of the economic case, in sharp relief, giving us just twelve more years to leap forward. And yet we continue to refine our methodology for evaluating the economic benefits of climate action and the costs of inaction.
But we must think beyond economic costs. As fires continue to ravage California and hurricane season comes to a close, we are approaching a reckoning with 2018’s climate change death toll. As a cross-sector community of practice, we are uniquely positioned to strengthen responsive professional capacity and reduce harm by sharing lessons learned and staying connected. Public health professionals turned the world’s attention back to the deaths caused by Hurricane Maria, using proven methodology for calculating excess mortality and outlining a research agenda for how to adapt those methodologies to the demands of climate-related disasters.
We must strive to build an accountability framework that significantly reduces loss of life. The field of public health consistently sounds the alarm about how climate change is impacting determinants of health such as clean air, water, food, and shelter. I ask those ASAP members who are part of both the climate adaptation and public health communities to step forward and help us integrate best practices for determining and communicating the human cost of climate change. We must bring the strengths from each of these communities of practice to bear and build capacity together.
Here are a few places to find public health and climate adaptation at the intersection:
The Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative has 5 Quick Guides on Climate Change & Public Health. For those at the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference this week, here is a list of climate change related sessions. Read this article from the APHA newswire on Accessing environmental health services: ‘This is community engagement 101’ and learn more about an environment and public health collaboration with the American Planning Association called Plans4Health. You can also attend the Health and Environmental Funders Network 2018 Annual Meeting on Environmental Health and Justice Majority: Raising Voices, Building Power, taking place in Pittsburgh November 28-30, 2018.