Rachel McMonagleToday’s guest blogger is Rachel McMonagle, climate change program manager for APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity.

As part of APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity work at the intersection of energy justice and climate change, we participated in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s 2020 Conference on Health, Environment and Energy. Held Jan. 21-23 in New Orleans, the multisectoral gathering explored how energy choices can affect our health and the environment. 

In his keynote address, "Climate Change: A Public Health Approach,” APHA Executive Director Georges  Benjamin, MD, discussed climate change as a public health crisis. “I care about polar bears a lot, but I care about my grandchildren more,” he said. 

Benjamin urged public health professionals to become energy justice advocates, particularly during the election process. “Push all candidates to a green energy future,” he said. “The most important thing you can do is vote.”

Using health as a uniting goal, professionals from health care, public health and the energy sector collaborated at the conference on climate solutions. Addressing inequities and social determinants of health was critical to discussions on advancing energy justice. 

“We must address structural and institutional racism,” said Jalonne White-Newsome, senior program officer at the Kresge Foundation. “We can keep treating the symptoms, but until we dig deeper, we’ll just be spinning our wheels.”

Energy production and consumption contribute to climate change and health risks. However, energy efficiency measures and renewable sources hold great potential for climate change mitigation, a just transition to a green economy and health for all communities.

“We need to broaden our scope of what is means to be successful (in energy efficiency projects),” said Ankoor Shah, medical director for the Improving Pediatric Asthma Care in the District of Columbia program. “We need to go beyond saved health care dollars to measures of home equity and quality of life.” 

Thanks to support from APHA’s center and promotional assistance from partners, five APHA members were able to attend the conference. 

Learn more about APHA’s work on climate change, health and equity.