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Climate Change Report Showcases Benefits of Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Yale Public Health Magazine, Yale Public Health: Fall 2022
by Pam Johnson


Hotter summer days and other extreme weather events being driven by climate change are putting increased pressure on Connecticut residents already struggling to pay their utility bills—and the situation is impacting some residents’ health. That is just one of the key findings included in a new collaborative report led by the Yale School of Public Health’s Center on Climate Change and Health (YCCCH). 

The report, “Energy Justice and Health in a Changing Climate,” was released in July by YCCCH in collaboration with Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS), Yale School of the Environment (YSE), and Operation Fuel, a Connecticut-based nonprofit energy assistance and advocacy organization committed to equitable energy access. It was the result of a collaborative, project-based course entitled the YSPH Clinic in Climate Justice, Law, and Public Health. The clinic is supported through a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Fund. 

“We’re leaning in on showing how climate change is a health issue, and how public health brings that into perspective,” said Laura Bozzi, PhD ’13, YCCCH director of programs and Yale’s faculty adviser for the project. “But understanding the problem and the solutions needed to address it also takes environmental managers, lawyers, the humanities, and social sciences. We wanted to construct a clinic where students with different expertise could come together around a particular project.” 

Student researchers from YSPH, YSE, and VLGS wrote the report, which showed that energy insecurity is also a health issue and placed it in the context of solutions that take climate change into account. 

Working in collaboration allowed students to share their strengths and learn from one another, said YSPH project lead Erika-ann Kim, MPH ’22. 

“I knew the qualitative methodology,” said Kim. “What I was not familiar with was implementing that into things like policy and creating that bridge between taking research results and actually using them to inform structural changes. I’m really grateful that I was able to get that experience.” 

Because the project was so crosscutting, it was valuable to have people with different skill sets, said project lead Sarah Gledhill, a Master of Environmental Management candidate at YSE. 

“I feel like every member of the team brought different things which made us stronger together,” Gledhill said. “I had never done qualitative research, but we had a lot of people who had already done focus groups for other types of research, whereas I could talk more about energy efficiency and how buildings work.” 

Research is better, it's more relevant, it's more usable, it's more respectful to the community it is serving when the research questions, methods, analysis, and dissemination are done collaborativel

Laura Bozzi

Joining Gledhill and Kim as project leads were Jhena Vigrass and Epongue Ekille, from YSE; and Kimberly Mashke and Olivia St Pierre, from VLGS. 

The student researchers held discussions with 22 Connecticut residents in focus groups gathered with assistance from Operation Fuel. The groups represented Connecticut’s diverse population, including low-income residents, individuals from communities of color, older adults, persons with disabilities, and those living with chronic diseases. 

“I’ve done community participatory-based research before, but I’ve never really done it like this, where we were so intertwined in communication with our community partners,” said Kim. “Every step of the research process involved not only us as researchers, but also Operation Fuel, and everyone else. I see that type of collaboration as a huge highlight of this project.” 

“Research is better, it’s more relevant, it’s more usable, it’s more respectful to the community it is serving when the research questions, methods, analysis, and dissemination are done collaboratively,” said Bozzi. “I think the Operation Fuel project is a good example of that.”