Walking into the Climate and Health Meeting in Atlanta with four other Duke students I immediately felt out of place as I realized what an honor it was to attend this conference.  The other 340 people attending seemed to be either top scholars in their field or representing a key organization, each coming to network and find some hope in a time of political opposition to the connection between climate change and health.  Al Gore began the day by framing climate change using statistics and data that illustrated the impacts of climate change on health from water to air quality. 

In the panels that followed one thing that stood out to me was the unexpected consequences of climate change on health. Dr. Myers informed us that the projected change in heat and carbon dioxide levels will lead to a dramatic decrease in food production, and in the very nutrition of crops.  I also deeply appreciated Catherine Flowers for being the only one represented who is honestly engaging vulnerable communities on a local level, giving a voice to non-academics.

Later in the day an emphasis was placed on the co-benefits of addressing climate change, as it is advantageous for healthcare and even the economy. It is said that “health is the human face of climate change” (Michelle Williams), and I realized that health consequences are indeed a powerful frame to engage people with the reality of climate change.  Jerry Taylor reminded us that people are less opposed than we assume to mitigating climate change, we just must acknowledge the uncertainty at play and most people will want to hedge their bets.  While the issue is serious, there is hope and many concrete ways to move forward.  My attitude for the future is summed up by Ed Maibach who counseled us, “you can’t solve the whole problem, but you have an important part to play in addressing a part of the problem” through day-to-day interactions with friends. Eventually I hope to also work for an organization that tackles climate and health.

Written by Julia Myhre, ’18