During Climate Week 2020, a focus on how climate affects health

It’s imperative to get the message out that addressing climate change is critical to improving human health, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Aaron Bernstein.

During Climate Week 2020, Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), participated in several virtual events aimed at promoting that message, including a panel sponsored by the Boston Globe, a New York University School of Law conference, and a Harvard Chan C-CHANGE workshop.

At the Boston Globe panel on September 21, Bernstein spoke about how, in his pediatric practice, he’s seen children with COVID-19 whom he’d also seen with asthma. Both health issues can be exacerbated by air pollution—caused by the burning of fossil fuels—and both tend to have an outsized impact on children who live in poorer neighborhoods, which often have higher pollution levels than other neighborhoods, he said.

That’s just one example of why it’s important to “show how solutions to climate change are equity solutions, are potentially pandemic-prevention solutions, and frankly are things we should be doing to protect our health right now anyway,” said Bernstein.

Climate change has been linked with a host of other issues that can harm human health, according to Bernstein and other experts. Weather disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, and floods can lead to death, displacement, and mental distress; hotter temperatures can cause problems ranging from respiratory diseases to heat exhaustion to cognitive issues; the movement of disease-carrying insects into new areas can contribute to the spread of infectious diseases; and high levels of CO2  in the atmosphere can cause the loss of nutrients in staple crops such as wheat and rice.

At the Harvard Chan C-CHANGE workshop “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic,” Bernstein discussed ways to engage with people who are skeptical of the scientific consensus on climate change or who don’t see it as relevant to their lives.

At the NYU conference, Bernstein participated on a panel that also included former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, who is now president and chief executive officer of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a professor of the practice of public health at Harvard Chan School, and chair of the Harvard Chan C-CHANGE board of advisers.

Bernstein also discussed climate and health at a virtual event sponsored by Fortune magazine on September 16.

Watch a video of the Boston Globe panel: Accelerating the Next Generation of Climate Policy and Protecting Human Health

Watch a video of the NYU conference: Perspectives on Climate Change & Public Health

Read about the Fortune magazine event: Why fighting climate change is key to America’s health