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Scientist, Journalist and Filmmaker Converge on YSPH to Explore the Threat of Climate Change

April 05, 2018

Climate change was in the air Wednesday as three separate speakers—a scholar, journalist, and a filmmaker—converged at the Yale School of Public Health to explore the implications of climate change on human health in the coming decades.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett and leading climate change scientist Anthony Costello simultaneously addressed large audiences of faculty and students during midday lectures at two different locations, while later in the day, documentary filmmaker Aaron Wolf screened Denial and participated in a panel discussion.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to host these three important events,” said Dean Sten Vermund. “Climate change is a significant threat to human health and the Yale School of Public Health is committed to collaborating on the solutions that are needed to address this danger.”

Garrett said that human activity is fundamentally changing the microbiome, and the damage to the outer world is “collective suicide for humans.”

Garrett, the author of landmark public health books such as The Coming Plague and Betrayal of Trust, called for a significant shift in how people think about public health and how it is funded. Garrett is visiting Yale as a Poynter Fellow and her talk was co-sponsored by the School of Public Health.

During the 1990s, global health hitched its wagon to globalization and billions of dollars entered the field. “Money saves lives,” and the funded work in HIV treatment, vaccination, malaria prevention, and maternal child health are some of the great successes of the 20th century, Garrett said.

However, a worldwide retreat from globalization toward nationalism is resulting in severe cuts to global health funding and movement of capital investment across borders, thus hampering emerging economies from lessening their dependence on foreign aid. Garrett painted a bleak picture of the state of global health due to the absence of international funding and cooperation, compression of wealth distribution worldwide, the threat of pandemics, microbial resistance to antibiotics and climate change.

Meanwhile, just across the street in Winslow Auditorium at the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Public Health, Costello admitted that there was a time, years ago, when he didn’t think climate change was such a big deal. Then he started learning about it.

“This is the biggest issue of our age. We need to tackle it in some way,” said Costello, professor at University College London and co-author of a series of climate change papers in The Lancet, including Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, an international collaboration dedicated to measuring the health effects of climate change.

Costello noted a 2017 paper published in Nature that said that a change in global temperature of 4 degrees was 93 percent certain by the end of the century. That result would be catastrophic for life on Earth.

‘We have an existential threat,” he declared.

Costello advocated a shift toward carbon taxes as an important policy step in addressing climate change and urged young people, including the many students in the audience, to become more active and outspoken on the issue.

“Public health professionals have the authority,” he said. “Each of your voices is much more important then you realize."

Costello is the Climate Change Leader in Residence on April 4 and 5 for the Yale Climate Change and Health Initiative, a program at the School of Public Health directed by Professor Robert Dubrow.

Back in Winslow that evening, Wolf presented Denial and then joined a panel discussion on the film’s implications. “You never know what story you’re going to tell,” said Wolf. Climate change was the original idea for the film. However, the personal narrative that emerged was something Wolf did not anticipate or plan.

The description for Denial reads: “Every day our changing climate pushes us closer to an environmental catastrophe, but for most the problem is easy to ignore. David Hallquist, a Vermont utility executive, has made it his mission to take on one of the largest contributors of this global crisis — our electric grid. But, when his son Derek tries to tell his father’s story, the film is soon derailed by a staggering family secret, one that forces Derek and David to turn their attention toward a much more personal struggle, one that can no longer be ignored.”

Denial is part of the first Yale School of Public Health Film Series. A different film with a public health theme is being shown over a five-day period that concludes Saturday, April 7. Two of the upcoming films will be co-screened with the Environmental Film Festival at Yale. Visit effy.yale.edu for the full schedule of events.

The Yale School of Public Health, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be offering a 20-week, fully online certificate program on climate change and health this fall.

The three six-week courses will include:

  • Introduction to Climate Change and Health
  • Climate Adaptation
  • Climate Change and Health: Communication and Behavior Change
Submitted by Elisabeth Reitman on April 05, 2018