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Basics of Climate and Health and How They Are Connected

Getting Started (10-15 min)

Welcome to Session 1 of the “Climate Is Health” series. This week we are focused on how climate and health are connected. Our Guest Speaker is Gina McCarthy, an American environmental health and air quality expert. Gina served as the 13th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and was a Professor of Public Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE).

Key concepts this week include climate change, public health, and food systems. 

  💡 If you have time, take a moment to reflect before starting with the session and answer the following questions in a notebook:

  1. Why are you interested in learning more about climate? About health?
  2. What current questions do you have about either of these topics?
  3. Have you ever heard a teacher, doctor, or news source discuss the connections between climate and health before?
  4. Without doing any research, how do you think climate and health are connected?

Guest Speaker (10 min)

Gina McCarthy

Explore in Depth (10-30 min) 

The American Public Health Association (APHA) provides flow charts of the impacts on health from air quality, extreme weather, rising temperatures, and vector-borne diseases.

Annually this report gives a comprehensive analysis tracking the impact of climate change on human health across 41 indicators around the world. Read the key takeaways for the United States briefing.

Patients are becoming the human faces of the climate crisis, as recognition of its health harm grows. 

Explore the impact of a warming planet on health and health care.

While others may not be talking about the ways climate and health are connected, Gina McCarthy is passionate about educating others on these issues.

Resources from Harvard Chan C-CHANGE showing how climate solutions and transitioning to clean energy protects children from dangerous pollutants and helps them live healthier lives today and in the future. 

Reflect and Discuss (10-30 min)

    1. Can you think of an example in your own life of the way that your health is impacted by changes in climate? Discuss or reflect.
    2. List five ways that the impacts of climate change are being felt now. How could each of those things impact human health?
    3. Focus on food, which is essential for good health. How does your food supply impact the climate and how is it impacted by climate?

Case Study (30-60 min)

Addressing Links Between Climate and Public Health in Alaska Native Villages

Explore what makes the above case study a successful example of a public health group establishing and sharing the links between climate and health. 

      • What inspires you about this story? 
      • What allowed them to be successful? 
      • What challenges were faced and overcome in this case study? 
      • What connections does this case study have to your own community? 
      • What questions do you have?
      • Counterargument: Conditions are deteriorating so quickly in many parts of Alaska that we should be spending federal dollars to resettle affected communities, rather than focusing on adaptation. 
        • Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Whether you personally agree or disagree, how would you refute it? 


Take Action (30-60 min)

  • Pick one food item that you particularly enjoy (e.g., a chocolate bar). Map out all of the steps that it takes for that product to get to you. From production to processing to transport, can you outline the entire journey? From here, map out the various systems involved in that process. At each step, list one way that this process might be contributing to changes in climate and one way that this process might be impacting human health.
  • Compare two versions of the same type of product that you enjoy (e.g., Hershey’s chocolate vs. Endangered Species chocolate or bottled water vs. filtered tap water). Map out all of the steps that it takes for those products to get to you. How are the journeys different? How are they the same?
  • Think of one thing you can do related to your food consumption choices that will positively impact climate as well as your health. Write this down. Commit to doing this for at least one week. Take a photo of yourself holding what you wrote down and send it to us at or tag #climateishealth. 


Don’t forget to post your ideas and learning journeys on social media with the tag #climateishealth and @HarvardCCHANGE, and email with any questions you have.

Download full content PDF – Climate Is Health – Session 1

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