Michaela Seiber

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 Michaela Seiber, an enrolled tribal member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. She graduated with her MPH from the University of South Dakota in 2016 and is president of the South Dakota Public Health Association.  

Q: Why are you passionate about climate and health equity? 

A: I think most people my age are very cognizant of climate change and its health impacts. I live in South Dakota, and this past spring we were hit with record rainfall and, with that, record flooding. There are still fields in the northeastern part of the state that are under water and not producing the usual corn and soybean crops. The South Dakota Public Health Association has developed a new strategic plan, and one of our focus areas is climate change.

Health inequity is already something that I’m working to correct through my community-based research focus. Climate change will further the inequities for those communities already fighting to stay healthy. As climate change lengthens and strengthens pollen season, who will be able to afford the extra prescriptions to treat allergies and asthma? We are already struggling to pay for medications as it is. To be worried about health equity means that we must be worried about climate change.

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

A: After the Speak for Health Bootcamp, I have a better idea of what it means to advocate for these two issues. When I advocate for climate and health equity, I will be advocating for every person. Everyone on this planet will benefit from us finding our voices and advocating for our lives. 

I must be confident in my story and effective in my communication with everyone, too, not just our lawmakers. And using my voice is just one way that I advocate for climate and health equity. At the bootcamp, we went over other effective ways to communicate with our leadership. Social media, letters and phone calls are all things that I’ve used in the past.

Q: How do you implement what you learned at the Speak for Health Bootcamp to advance the field of climate, health and equity?

A: The bootcamp experience was amazing on so many levels. I think I took 10 pages of notes that I’ve been using to help the South Dakota Public Health Association develop its messaging ahead of the next legislative session. We really want to engage our state on environmental health.

The different pieces of the bootcamp really helped me see the importance of finding common ground through local examples to connect with my leaders. I was nervous about walking into these meetings with them. I had no idea what to expect and was afraid I’d forget what to say. Everything about the bootcamp, though, helped to ease those worries and give me confidence. It was the most amazing experience, and I’m so happy that I was able to attend!

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!