LA Health and Climate: Advancing Healthy and Resilient Communities Through Adaptation and Changes in Planning

Climate change has the potential to cause widespread injuries and death related to natural disasters, displacement, heat-related illnesses, malnutrition, and air and water pollution. If we do not act now, we may face a great social and ecological disaster with the impacts felt most acutely by society’s most vulnerable populations: women, children, the poor and elderly. PSR-LA recognizes that to avoid this disaster we must work on two fronts — transforming the way we make and use energy, and preparing for the impending health impacts of climate change. While continuing to work for real policy solutions at the international and national level, developing solutions at the local level is just as important and cannot wait.

In 2008, California’s landmark legislation SB 375 (Steinberg) prompted the California Air Resources Board to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by coordinating regional planning efforts between land use and transportation planning departments throughout the state of California. The legislation has incited an opportunity amongst environmental health advocates to correlate health effects and land use decisions. Research has shown that land use decisions contribute to obesity and other health disparities in low income and communities of color.

By coordinating land use and transportation uses, communities can begin to have access to healthier lifestyles and therefore healthier communities in general. Needless to say, the opportunity for healthier communities should benefit everyone and not just those communities with investment opportunities in the horizon. PSR-LA has been working with social equity justice and environmental justice groups to ensure that low-income communities and communities of color’s health and quality of life issues are addressed as the next Regional Transportation Plan gets developed by ensuring that access and affordability are included in the conversation for a healthy, livable and just community.

PSR-LA also co-organized a symposium on April 30th, 2010 titled, Los Angeles Health and Climate: Advancing healthy and resilient communities in a changing environment. This event was hosted by The Nature Conservancy, UCLA School of Public Health, California Department of Public Health, PSR-LA, and Communities for a Better Environment. The symposium began a conversation about the search for solutions in Los Angeles through which we can collaboratively build a shared understanding of the nature of the challenge we face. This includes our shared responsibility for action, and recognizing the diversity of priorities and the breadth of activity needed to address climate change. Highlighted solutions on April 30th included the need for creating safer, healthier communities while reducing climate change through community gardens, green space, and supporting local food production.

Martha Dina Argüello, PSR-LA Executive Director introduced speakers and facilitated discussion throughout the day. Key note speaker Michael Lerner of Commonweal, the nonprofit health and environmental research institute, discussed the spiritual and ethical dimensions of addressing climate change. Dr. Richard Jackson, Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA School of Public Health and PSR-LA board member, led discussions throughout, and helped set the stage for the day-long conversations with his publication: Preparing the US Health Community for Climate (Jackson et al, Annual Reviews of Public Health 2008).

In this publication, Dr. Jackson asserts that health workers must, “…analyze the impact of climate change with a view to human health, and then formulate robust policy and demonstrate authentic leadership.” Through this symposium’s speaker panels and cross-discussion, an early step towards cultivating that authentic leadership was certainly demonstrated.

The slowing and potential stopping of climate change’s effects is critical. Developing complementary adaptation strategies to mitigate climate change’s effects is just as critical. PSR-LA will continue using our unique position to frame climate change as a public health crisis that must be primarily addressed with rapid reduction in carbon and other air pollutants, and policies that prompt private sector investment and innovation in the new green economy. Our local chapter has gained strength and influenced environmental health policy by connecting the local to the global — identifying environmental health problems and creating solutions that can inform and serve as a model for others to follow.

To join us in forming these creative solutions and engaging your colleagues, contact Martha Dina Argüello, PSR-LA Executive Director at (213) 689-9170, marguello@psr-la.org.

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