College of Public Health convenes thought-leaders for panel on climate change and health (VIDEO) 

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Climate change poses significant threats to global health, worsening existing challenges and introducing new ones. For National Public Health Week 2024, George Mason University’s College of Public Health convened a climate change and health panel of experts to explore the intersection of climate change and health from diverse perspectives, drawing on insights from psychology, environmental science, and public health. The event, titled Conversations and Connections: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Climate Change and Health.  

panel at Conversations and Connections

The event showcased experts in climate change communications, the psychological impacts of climate change, and environmental justice: 

“Today, we sit here with climate change as an incontrovertible fact, and the intersection between health and public health is readily apparent. What in public health is not being affected by climate change? Really, put that to the test and especially if you think about it from access to healthcare and the ways in which access is directly affected by the disruptions and the disasters that happen limited to climate change,” said moderator Melissa Perry, ScD, MS, dean of the College of Public Health. 

Maibach underscored effective communication strategies to mobilize public action on climate and health issues. 

“What I'm most excited about [in terms of innovative climate change communications] is us. The voices of health professionals and what we can do to make further progress in waking up America to the realities of climate change,” said Maibach. “We have this extraordinary opportunity to use our trust with the public. To reframe the issue of climate change and move it out of the ‘plants, penguins, and polar bear’ space; bring it into the human health space with our trusted voices and our research. 

He continued with this advice, “The one thing I have learned in my 42 years as a public health communication specialist is you have to make it simple. Not dumbing [the message] down...It’s smartening up our communication.” 

Van Susteren shed light on the psychological impacts of climate change and strategies for resilience 

"As bad as the storms are outside [droughts, floods, fires, etcetera], the storms inside are even worse,” said Van Susteren. “Much of the time when you have an extreme weather event, some of the time not all, you can clean up when there's a feeling of bravado and a collective effort. But when you have been psychologically damaged, the impacts are often unseen. You can't really those scars and the wounds and the fears, the anger, the grief and loss, etcetera, it's hard to determine.” 

Witherspoon provided perspectives on environmental justice and community-based approaches to address climate-related health disparities. 

"There could be no bigger threat than the threat of climate change globally because it exacerbates all of the existing diversification and health implications that many children are suffering from and challenged from just to get by,” said Witherspoon.  

The panelists were very hopeful about where climate change and health is headed, while acknowledging there was plenty of work to be done and room for everyone’s unique talents to make an impact. 

The College of Public Health thanks all the panelists for their thoughtful insight and discussion on this important topic and looks forward to further discussion and problem-solving in this critical area. 

 Watch the entire panel below: