This fall, the Center for Climate, Health and Equity is spotlighting the 10 health equity and climate justice champions it sponsored to attend APHA’s July 2019 #ClimateChangesHealth Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp in Washington, D.C. Today’s conversation is with Lindsay Joy-Wenning, a Master’s in Public Health graduate from the University of Michigan and field epidemiologist for the Indiana State Department of Health.

Lindsay Joy-WenningQ: Why are you passionate about climate and health equity?

A: Climate change is an issue many people put on the back burner, which has made it a crisis. Instead of supporting the American notion that the future is in the hands of the next generation, we need to adjust our habits and heal our planet to continue living here now.

I work in an eight-county region of rural Indiana. Two of my counties have no hospital. Marginalized residents who lack infrastructure, like those involved in agriculture, can’t cope with the income and health uncertainties that have come with climate change.

Climate and health equity are inextricably linked, and we need to care for our planet’s inhabitants along with our earth. Forty-one percent of the mothers in my state were on Medicaid in 2018. People can’t care about what condition the earth will be in 20 years when they live paycheck-to-paycheck.

Food deserts lead to an increased consumption of plastic and single-use items, but fresh produce and reusable storage containers are expensive. There are inherent economic inequalities associated with living green; people need to meet their basic needs first. Health inequity is killing our planet and its people.

Q: What does advocating for climate and health equity mean to you?

A: It means that I’m in this for the long haul. Big changes don’t happen overnight, but if we want a sustainable world, where everyone has equal access to health care, we have to consistently fight.

Sometimes, health inequity is plain to see, like with the absence of guaranteed adult dental care provided by Medicaid. Other times, it’s a stair-step issue, like the lack of breaks and maternity leave given to hourly workers, which leads to fewer mothers breastfeeding and/or pumping, which leads to an increased rate of SIDS in infants and breast cancer in women.

Everyone has the right to affordable healthcare and to products that will omit the need for plastic, reduce our carbon footprint and lessen our dependency on fossil fuels. Advocacy means seeing the big picture and finding the smaller steps required to achieve it.

Q: What impact did the Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp have on you?

A: The speech on day one about becoming a policy entrepreneur enlivened my spirit. Dr. Jenn Gustetic, program executive for small business innovation research at NASA, reminded us that there are no original ideas, but that not everyone takes the steps necessary to bring them to fruition.

Nothing is accomplished alone, and we need to delegate tasks based on the strengths each individual brings to the table. Issues like climate change and health equity can seem overwhelming, but we’re all in this together.

The vast majority of attendees and speakers at the bootcamp were women, and it was impossible to escape the realization that our future is female. Additionally, the most rewarding part of the experience was speaking to the senatorial staff about issues from our home state.

We all took figurative and physical steps onto Capitol Hill on day two to speak to lawmakers. We met with legal aides to discuss region-specific data and public health legislation that need their support. It was a motivating experience that proved I now have the tools to make a difference.

Learn more about how APHA is helping the next generation of public health professionals take action on climate change. And submit your application by Nov. 17 for the Center for Climate, Health and Equity’s new Student Champions for Climate Justice awards!