by Lotta Chan

, October 11, 2011

Strong synergies exist between addressing climate change and promoting 
public health, yet climate change mitigation and adaption policies do not
 always harness these opportunities to achieve win-win
 solutions. The atmosphere in California is ripe for synergistic efforts and
 knowledge sharing focused on climate change and public health. Work
 continues throughout the state to reduce emissions from transportation, building energy use, waste, and land use patterns. We must ensure that important public health impacts are considered when climate change policies at the state level are developed and implemented. At the same 
time, priority consideration must be given to the most vulnerable 
communities in California through efforts to address both physical and 
social determinants of vulnerability.

The Center for Public Health and Climate Change will be hosting two regional 
convenings, in Oakland (October 11th) and Fresno (TBD).  Key stakeholders from multiple sectors will discuss public health and 
climate change public policy and advocacy priorities in California, and will explore opportunities for closer alignment and coordination. Through 
these convenings, PHI will gather input for a California Public Policy
 Action Plan for Climate Change that will serve as a roadmap for the Center
 for Public Health and Climate Change. The plan will guide the Center’s work to advocate for institutionalizing
 public health safeguards and for maximizing 
public health co-benefits in state climate policies.


by Jade Sasser, October 07, 2011

Reprinted with permission from RH Reality Check.

Who's afraid of climate change? Well, I am but not necessarily for the reasons you may think. I’m afraid that the recent, much-deserved attention to climate change will revive some of the old alarmist debates on population. And with those debates, I’m worried that the specter of population control will rear its ugly head again.

You see, as a woman of color, I am particularly sensitive to population control arguments. After all, claims of “overpopulation” usually target women who look like me.

Throughout the 20th century, coercive welfare policies led to thousands of African-American women in the United States being sterilized without their consent in a procedure that came to be known as the “Mississippi Appendectomy.”  In the 1950s, Puerto Rican women’s bodies were used as the testing grounds for controversial and experimental contraceptive trials, in part due to government perceptions that these experiments could help solve the island’s “population problem.” Around the same time, population control became enshrined within development programs in India and Bangladesh, where use of contraceptives and permanent sterilization were attached to food aid programs and the allocation of land and medical care. And, as recently as the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of poor and indigenous women were sterilized against their will by the government of Peru under the banner of fighting poverty and overpopulation.

What does all of this have to do with the environment? Well, a lot. In the United States, fears of a “population crisis” exploded onto the scene back in the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of the environmental movement, with environmentalists blaming population growth for everything from deforestation and desertification to global food shortages. Neo-Malthusian scholars and activists called for reducing food aid to starving populations in developing countries, and one well-known biologist famously suggested that sterilizing agents be placed into the American water supply.

Population alarmism gained quite a bit of support at the time, both among the general American public and among some members of the international development sector, who felt that controlling and reducing population growth would be beneficial to the global environment and the security of U.S. borders.

Luckily, population controllers were stopped in their tracks by a coalition of women’s health and rights reformers in the mid-1990s. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) meetings in Cairo, world leaders agreed that universal access to reproductive health services, within a broader focus on women’s rights and empowerment, would replace population control as the leading paradigm for the international family planning movement. Focused on meeting women’s reproductive health needs, as opposed to controlling and reducing their fertility, this new paradigm was enshrined in a document known as the Cairo Consensus, which was ratified by 179 countries.

At around the same time, the population bubble burst. According to the Population Reference Bureau, nowadays the average woman in a developing country gives birth to 2.5 children, compared to 6 children in 1950. In the industrialized world, this figure is even lower, with women having an average of 1.64 kids. Although in some regions like sub-Saharan Africa, rapid population growth continues to be carried along by demographic momentum, the trend toward the average woman giving birth to fewer children is a long-term, global phenomenon.

But is this enough to keep population controllers at bay? I’m not sure. Climate change has received much well-deserved attention lately in the news. And along with it comes the old, familiar population debate.

In 2009, the Vice Minister of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission told an international audience that the Chinese one-child policy had proved to be an environmental success, adding that the 400 million births that have been prevented since the introduction of the policy have resulted in 1.8 billion fewer tons of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. At the same time, several professors in the United States and Australia have proposed carbon taxes for every child born beyond the replacement fertility level of two children per couple.

In addition, the British charity Optimum Population Trust published a report arguing that spending just $7 on international family planning projects could reduce carbon emissions by one ton, concluding that family planning as a method of reducing future emissions of carbon dioxide is significantly cheaper than many low-carbon technologies. The organization created a website which offers consumers the opportunity to offset their carbon footprint by investing in family planning in developing countries. The site argues that investing in family planning is a “cost-effective and permanent way of reducing CO2 emissions and climate change” with “no downsides,” and  offers wealthy Westerners the opportunity to consume their way into reducing their carbon footprints through reducing the childbearing of other women, rather than changing their own greenhouse gas emitting behaviors.

Not only do these approaches get into an ethical gray zone, they are based on faulty logic. We have to remember that the United States is the leading global emitter of greenhouse gases, producing 25 percent of the world’s emissions every year, even though our population accounts for just 4.5 percent of the world total. Many global South countries with rapidly growing populations, like Kenya, emit far fewer greenhouse gases than we do; the average Kenyan produces 0.3 tons of emissions every year, compared with the average American’s average 20 tons of emissions. Clearly, it is what we do, rather than how many of us there are, that drives the climate bus.

As Lisa Hymas argued in her recent article, not all Americans consume the same volume of resources in the same way. Middle and upper class Americans who drive multiple vehicles, build vacation homes, and race to buy every new technological gizmo that comes on the market have a significantly higher carbon footprint than the working class and poor. At the same time, we have to think about the bigger actors that dwarf all of us in their climate-changing behaviors. Mega oil corporations, for example, earn billions of dollars in profits when they extract, burn, refine, and sell fossil fuel products.  And, how could we ever forget the role of the military in this conversation. Its atmosphere-polluting activities are often hidden in the debates over climate change and population growth—a shocking fact, considering that the U.S. military is the single largest consumer of oil in the world.

Despite the fact that they consumer fewer environmental resources, women, communities of color, and the poor suffer more of the impacts of climate change. Climate-related natural disasters, which are on the rise, disproportionately impact women around the world, who are much more likely to drown or die in accidents. Those who survive are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual abuse, and poor reproductive health outcomes.

Climate change does, however, offers us opportunities to address women’s human and reproductive rights, but the connections must be made in the right way. Ensuring universal access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including emergency obstetric care, both hormonal and barrier methods of contraception, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, HIV testing, counseling and treatment, and referrals for services for gender-based violence, promotes basic human rights--all women have the right to control their reproductive and sexual lives--and are important components of a gender-sensitive approach to adapting to the effects of climate change. Supporting coercive population interventions among the poor as a means of mitigating or preventing climate change, on the other hand, is not a defensible approach.

We must be ever vigilant, keeping the principles of reproductive health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice for women at the heart of the approach. Through this framework, and the protection of women’s rights to have children, not to have children, and to parent the children that they do have, we can remain on the right side of both the climate justice and reproductive justice debates.


by Jeni Miller, September 30, 2011

As the second highest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, the U.S. has a special responsibility to go green, a responsibility the nation has not yet committed to meeting.  But doing so could also help address one of its biggest challenges: rampant chronic disease, with the attendant health care costs, lost productivity and decreased years and quality of life.  While the nation as a whole drags its heels, places within it are working to lead the way.  In 2006, California passed groundbreaking legislation to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

The Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill 32, set targets for reducing GHGs, and was followed in 2008 by the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, Senate Bill 375, that mapped out how regional land use and transportation planning agencies must work together to reach a portion of the goals. 

With good reason, California advocates for public health and equity saw this as a major opportunity, and have worked closely with environmental, green jobs, bike/walk, affordable housing, farmland preservation and other groups to push for full implementation of these bills, and implementation in ways that maximize health co-benefits.

At the heart of SB 375 is the requirement that the most populous or emissions-heavy regions in the state develop “sustainable communities strategies” that integrate regional transportation planning with planning for population growth and housing, to create walkable, transit based communities.  Benefits to health:  increased physical activity, decreased commute times, cleaner air, better social connectedness, improved mental health, preservation of productive farmland, and, long term, mitigation of climate change.

The rubber is now meeting the road, so to speak.  Last week the California Air Resources Board, public health advocates, and other stakeholders across the state got a look at the first regional sustainable communities strategy, for San Diego County, due to be finalized by the end of October.  While elements of the plan seem strong (such as goals for new multi-family housing units), other aspects, such as backsliding targets for greenhouse gas reductions and delayed investments in important transit and biking and walking facilities, are raising questions and drawing criticism.

As the region producing the first plan, San Diego, too, has a special responsibility, and in this case, a unique opportunity.  Its sustainable community strategy sets the precendent for those that follow, in a state that is attempting to show a reluctant nation what addressing climate change could look like.  A strong plan would not only reduce climate change but also make our communities healthier. We all have a stake in pushing San Diego to address the weaknesses in its plan.

Read what some groups are saying about the strengths and limitations of San Diego’s sustainable communities strategy (SCS) plan:

National Resources Defense Council


by Amanda Keifer, September 22, 2011

This week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Imagespoke at an event during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The event, titled Women and Agriculture: A Conversation on Improving Global Food Security, consisted of a panel of leaders from the UN, civil society, private sector, and government. In her remarks, Clinton noted that in a time when nearly 1 billion people are suffering from chronic hunger and we are doing our best to come to the aid of those in need, we must stay focused on the “long-term goal of strengthening global agriculture” in order to reduce hunger by producing more food and more nutritious food. 

The world’s population will hit 7 billion next month and will continue to grow in the coming years. The United Nations estimates that global food production will need to increase by 70 percent by the year 2050 in order to meet this demand.  However, the increasing frequency of droughts and other extreme weather events as a result of climate change place additional pressures on the agricultural sector.  How can we meet the challenge of providing an adequate food supply to a growing population while still protecting the environment? For Secretary Clinton - and the Center for Public Health and Climate Change - the answer is clear… a greater investment in women.


Women all around the world are mothers, leaders, entrepreneurs, decision-makers, and providers.  In developing countries they are also the bulk of the agricultural workforce, involved in all aspects of production, from plowing and planting to harvest and taking the surplus to market. However, female farmers face considerable barriers to equal access to land ownership and other resources needed for effective socio-economic participation, as Center Director Cristina Tirado has written about.  In addition, women are more susceptible than men to undernutrition, which can be exacerbated by weather and climate changes.  Loss of natural resources and agricultural productivity also increases women’s workload and endangers their own and their families’ welfare.


Therefore, as Clinton argues, we must focus on promoting food and nutrition security by investing in women’s livelihoods. In her speech, Secretary Clinton pledged $5 million for “a new gender program within Feed the Future.” These funds will be used to support “innovative approaches to promoting gender equality in agriculture and land use and to integrate gender effectively into agricultural development and food security programs.”  Investing in women in this way not only improves their agricultural productivity and access to adequate nutrition, but also provides female farmers with the tools to adapt to and mitigate climate changes that impact their lives.


by Jeni Miller, September 21, 2011

PHI's Jeff Meer provides a report out from the panel discussion "Climate Change and NCDs: Creating a Climate for Health" at this week's High Level Meeting convened by the United Nations.  The meeting focuses on noncommunicable disease, and the panel discussion looked at the intersection of NCDs with work to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.  Learn more about the panel, and take a look at some of the powerpoint presentations, heard by representatives from around the globe.

PHI Holds Climate Change and NCDs panel by Jeff Meer

by Cristina Tirado, September 19, 2011

WHO Noncommunicable Disease (NCD)What if addressing our most pressing environmental challenges such as climate change could also put us on course to reducing the global burden of disease, particularly the noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) that caused 63% of global deaths in 2008? Yes, climate change and NCDs are two winnable battles. 

 According to the World Health Organization, 36 million deaths around the world were caused by Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) like heart diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. Moreover, 80% of premature NCDs are preventable. We may be familiar with individually-based forms of prevention, such as increasing physical activity, eating a low fat diet, and eliminating smoking. However, a body of scientific evidence demonstrates that many environmentally and climate friendly changes can have a positive impact on reducing NCDs as well. When cities invest in green urban design, such as improving public transit and creating safe walking and cycling routes, they help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while boosting healthy physical activity that can reduce incidence of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Introducing the use of clean cookstoves reduces reliance on solid fuels (biomass) which burn inefficiently, produce harmful and polluting smoke, and contribute to the incidence of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and a range of other respiratory diseases. Finally, shifting production policies in the agricultural sector to prioritize the cultivation of fruits, vegetables and legumes and produce fewer animal-based foods will help to lower consumption of saturated fats associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.    

Though each of these strategies would make a difference on its own, to create change that will be truly effective, leaders must work across sectors to build and sustain collaborative approaches. Promoting multi-sectoral collaboration that places health in the center of decision making – a “Health in All Policies” approach -- is central to building the key partnerships among members of the health, environmental, transport, energy, and agricultural sectors.

A strong multi-sectoral approach supports health in a green economy by promoting health and environmental co-benefits and avoiding health risks from policies in sectors such as transport, housing, household energy, and agriculture. Green investment (e.g. greener transport, urban planning, green housing and energy policies) is a low-cost means of preventing cardiovascular and chronic respiratory disease, obesity-related conditions and cancers, and yielding benefits for health equity. As it turns out, a climate win is a health win!