Hundreds of people dialed in to learn about climate change adaptation strategies for public health practitioners during the fifth Webinar in the six-part Climate Change and Health Series hosted by the CDC. Moderated by Dr. George Luber, Associate Director for Climate Change at CDC, participants from across the country heard from Dr. Kristie L. Ebi, Executive Director, Technical Support Unit for Working Group II of the IPCC and Dr. Kim Knowlton, Senior Scientist, Health & Environment Program, NRDC.

The speakers highlighted essential public health efforts required to prepare for and adapt to climate change health impacts.  Given the unequivocal nature of the problem, and, from the public health perspective, the dedicated warming that is already set to occur, climate change requires an immediate and committed response from the public health community.  Adaptation to climate change will be the defining issue of the 21st century for public health and related workers and will require coordination on multiple levels from the public health system.

Dr. Ebi pointed out that public health practitioners must view adaptation to climate change related health impacts as a form of prevention. Since health impacts are likely to vary widely across spatio-temporal scales and on levels never before seen, public health workers will be challenged in entirely new ways. The key to successfully mitigating climate-related health consequences is thorough local preparedness along with flexibility in public health planning. “Climate change is a process to be managed, not a problem to be solved,” said Dr. Ebi.

Dr. Knowlton, who is Co-Chair of the Climate Change Topic Committee of the Environment Section, emphasized the ‘here-and-now’ of climate change by opening her talk with a picture of a young girl struggling to cope with the debilitating effects of asthma.  Asthma is just one respiratory illness on the rise as the result of climate change. Record high pollen counts across the country—believed to be the result of climate change—are contributing to the problem.  Dr. Knowlton outlined essential strategies for public health practitioners to adapt to climate-related illnesses such as asthma. These include identifying vulnerable populations and locales; tracking disease and environmental trends; moving toward climate smart infrastructure and design; and public education about climate-health impacts and preparedness.

          Both speakers agreed the time for adaptation is now and that public health proponents need to get the word out that it’s about preserving the health of humans as well as the planet. The time to adapt is now; a failure to do so will be a failure of public health with potentially catastrophic consequences for human health.

          “The Climate Change: Mastering the Public Health Role” is a six-part educational series co-sponsored by the APHA, NACCHO, ASTHO and SOPHE. The series focuses on effectively communicating the health related aspects of climate change, promoting work-force development, and ensuring capacity building at local levels. The webinars are available at: http://www.apha.org/programs/environment/.