women speaking at tablePublic health and environmental leaders are joining forces to brainstorm creative ways to elevate the issue of energy justice within climate change conversations.

The topic took center stage at yesterday’s invite-only Climate Changes Health Roundtable at APHA’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Expo in Philadelphia. About 50 local and national environmental leaders and public health practitioners and scholars gathered at the event to discuss energy justice, which describes an energy system that fairly disseminates the costs and benefits of energy services, while ensuring representative decisionmaking that pays particular attention to marginalized communities.

Among the goals of the roundtable: to help elevate public health, health equity and justice in discussions about the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energies.

“In the same way that climate change disproportionately affects certain populations, energy is a health equity issue,” said Surili Patel, deputy director of APHA’s Center for Public Health Policy. “Communities most affected by environmental harms and risks are further impacted by inequities surrounding energy use.”

Roundtable speakers offered a variety of perspectives — academic, grassroots and advocacy — as they shared data, tools and strategies for addressing energy justice. Speakers included Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University; Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program; and Daniel Wolk of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Attendees participated in facilitated roundtable discussions focused on identifying and understanding what APHA partners, Affiliates and members are working on within the energy justice space, what their priorities are and where APHA can add value. Each roundtable group then presented its thoughts about the role of public health professionals in a just-energy transition, what an environmentally just future might look like and how APHA can help.

“I’m really glad we’re going beyond just talking about the health consequences of climate change to looking at them in a more holistic way, through all lenses to ask how we can protect all of our communities,” said Patel. “How do we promote not just health policies that combat climate change but ones that are rooted in environmental justice?”

By pursuing energy justice as a priority, public health professionals can help challenge health inequities, as well as mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.

“We want to recognize APHA as a national organization, but also acknowledge the power of our community, with our Affiliates and partners taking these conversations and actions down to the state and local level, where decisions are made,” said Rachel McMonagle, program manager of APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity, which opened its doors one year ago at APHA’s Annual Meeting in San Diego.

For more on APHA’s climate change work, visit APHA’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity.

Photo by Jim Ezell, courtesy EZ Event Photography