At the mention of climate change, most people think of melting ice and increasing global temperatures. While those are key elements of climate change, one of the lesser-known aspects is the direct impact on human health. Low-income communities, communities of color, rural communities and tribal and indigenous communities suffer the most.
UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant are part of a team that will establish the Southeast and Caribbean Climate Alliance to understand these impacts and establish steps to help residents.
Alliance members will pinpoint injustices linked to health outcomes due to climate change. Then, they will identify additional research needs and develop a framework for how to make the most impact.
“Climate change’s impact on communities is not always visible, but it is extremely damaging,” said LaToya O’Neal, UF/IFAS assistant professor and Extension health and wellness specialist.
Severe storms cause injuries and increased stress that sometimes leads to substance abuse or mental health conditions. Flooding creates contamination many families cannot escape. Warmer air and water temperatures create challenges for those that rely on production agriculture as a primary source of income or food for their family.
“Climate conditions influence on health equity outcomes is a public health concern,” said O’Neal. “It is critical to understand the fundamental causes of climate-related health disparities. This project will allow us to collaborate with stakeholders to do so.”
Project leaders include UF/IFAS, Florida Sea Grant, Georgia Sea Grant, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, The University of Puerto Rico, The University of the Virgin Islands and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The team will engage climate science and health experts, health care providers, local and state public health officials, insurance agencies, faith leaders, emergency service providers, law enforcement officials, elected officials, military, planners, zoning, transportation agencies, school administrators, labor groups, private foundations and philanthropic organizations to understand and develop next steps for addressing community needs.
“The most exciting component of the project is increasing the capacity of Sea Grant programs in the Southeast and Caribbean to help underserved communities, and in particular, help them address how climate change will affect the health of their residents,” said Sherry Larkin, director of Florida Sea Grant. “As a planning grant, this project stands to provide the justification for communities to further protect against a changing climate.”
“Local adaptation solutions to climate change are likely to be most effective when they are developed holistically, taking into consideration the complex relationship between public health and climate change and other development priorities such as poverty alleviation, disaster impact reduction and inclusive socioeconomic development,” said Mona Behl, project leader and associate director of Georgia Sea Grant.
“Having input and buy-in from stakeholders is critical,” said O’Neal. “If the right people are not at the table or we do not have input from everyone, we work in silos. Bringing together diverse stakeholders is important to get everyone working on the same issue and to develop a collective vision to solve these issues.”