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LA Health and Climate Symposium: Advancing Healthy and Resilient Communities In A Changing Environment

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.

PSR-LA 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 Michel Lerner of Commonweal 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 it, 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.

All speakers of the day included: Dr. Michael Lerner, PhD, Founder and President, Commonweal; Dr. Kristie Ebi, PhD, Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, Strategy Initiatives Director, Movement Generation; Trevor Sandwith, Director: Biodiversity and Protected Areas Policy, The Nature Conservancy; Dr. Richard Jackson, MD, Chair of Environmental Health Sciences, UCLA School of Public Health; Graciela Geyer, SCOPE.

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. These strategies are only strengthened by forming substantive adaptation strategies that can be part of climate change’s mitigation.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,

You can find video of the speakers on the UCLA School of Public Health video page. Special thanks to the symposium sponsors: The Energy Foundation, The California Endowment, UCLA Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Whole Foods Market.

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