Attending the Climate and Health Meeting was one of the most interesting opportunities I have had in my Duke experience thus far. Al Gore’s keynote presentation gave everyone in the room an even footing to comprehend the issues at hand, examining some of the correlations between climate change and human health impacts through biological and social lenses. Throughout the day, panels gave a variety of perspectives and expertise on a variety of subjects, including “Connecting Climate Change and Public Health: State of the Science”, “Co-Benefits: The Good News Story of Climate Change and Health”, “Protecting Public Health from Climate-Related Threats: Lessons from Across the Globe” and “From Science to Practice in the United States”.  This wide variety of subjects allowed for perspectives from public health agencies in the USA and in Europe, and brought in scientific data on heat, extreme weather events, the food supply, infectious diseases, air quality, and mental health.

From the perspective of a Human Rights student, the interventions of Catherine Flowers and the other panelists dealing with the transition from science to practice in the United States were incredibly valuable. Ms. Flowers brought a unique perspective that had markedly been missing throughout the day, concerning the health of vulnerable populations in rural areas. Her contributions, which included a video about the lack of wastewater infrastructure in Lowndes County, allowed for the audience to connect the very far-removed science we had learned about, with the faces and stories of individuals who will face the consequences if we are unable to slow climate change. Other panelists next to Ms. Flowers, such as George Luber and Gary Cohen, offered valuable insights into policy solutions and concrete action models to be implemented.

The last panel, “Communicating the Climate-Health Connection”, was the most valuable to my interests in Public Policy. Ed Maibach, Susan Pacheco and Jerry Taylor equipped participants to effectively communicate with their key audiences. An interesting takeaway from this discussion was the importance of finding trusted voices to communicate messages in a time when politicians considered untrustworthy.  That could mean medical professionals, community leaders, or groups with strong connections to the target population. The importance of using stories and human connection was a valuable takeaway, well-illustrated by the audience’s positive response to Catherine Flower’s video of her rural community.

Meeting Al Gore at the end of the day was such an exciting moment, as well as witnessing a speech by President Carter when he interrupted an afternoon panel. This was an incredibly valuable opportunity, which has encouraged me to look further into opportunities for engagement with environmental policy through conferences and coursework at Duke.

Written by Mary Aline Fertin, ’19