This course is an introduction to the multiple ways our changing climate affects global population health, and to promising policy and practice responses. More intense storms, heatwaves, and rising seas mean many, particularly the most vulnerable, now face growing risks of weather-related injury, illness, mental stress and even death. Because people care deeply about health outcomes, public health has great potential to convey the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a warmer, more unpredictable climate. The main message of the course is that public health must therefore “lean in” and become a more central player in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Because climate-related health risks happen mainly at the local level, the course focuses on cities – increasingly key players in climate change policy. Starting with an overview of the science consensus suggesting we have 10-20 years to prevent risks associated with exceeding 1.5°C of global warming and put in place adaptive policies, the course provides interactive lectures, expert interviews and case studies that build practical knowledge. In the final assignment, participants apply course tools and strategies to a city of their choice, preparing them to contribute to climate mitigation and building health resiliency in their own local context.
Introduction and Climate Science
Module I introduces learners to the basic definitions, principles and findings of climate change science, relying on reports of the UN-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as the US National Climate Assessment, NASA, NOAA, and other science agencies. Following a brief course overview, sessions cover how the climate has changed and may change in the future, including the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5 degrees C. An interview with former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy addresses why public health departments globally need to prepare for a changing climate, and an interview with Dr. Rufus Ewing, former Premier of Turks and Caicos, provides a perspective on the impacts of extreme storms and sea-level rise on vulnerable small island states. A ten-question multiple-choice quiz provides an opportunity to take stock of module learning.
Public Health Perspective
Module II details the health impacts of climate change on human populations, and why a changing climate provides both a challenge but also an opportunity for public health. Direct impacts of climate change on human well-being are covered (including illness, injuries and death from extreme heat, precipitation, and worsening air quality) and indirect impacts (such as increased risk of vector-borne disease, risks to water quality and quantity, food security and safety, mental health, and climate-related relocation). Emphasized points include the vulnerability of specific populations; the complex, interlinked and multi-scale nature of climate health challenges; and the particular hazards faced by cities – on the climate frontline due to their concentrated populations, the urban heat island effect and other factors. An interview with Dr. Thomas Matte, former Assistant Health Commissioner for New York City, provides perspectives on Hurricane Sandy and its impacts; while an interview with former World Bank Institute Urban Director Dr. Mila Freire provides insights into how urban planning and public health can collaborate to enhance climate health outcomes in cities. A ten-question quiz provides an opportunity to review and consolidate learning.
Assessment Frameworks and Case Study
Module III introduces learners to climate and health analytical tools and assessment methods they can use in their own local contexts, illustrating application of these tools through examples including a case study for the city of Barcelona presented by Dr. Joan Ramon Villalbi of the Barcelona Public Health Agency. Among the assessment methods highlighted are the EU Climate Adapt framework, Health Impact Assessment (HIA), and innovative approaches such as “multisolving.” Special focus is placed on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) five-step adaptive-learning framework called “Building Resilience Against Climate Effects” (BRACE), with the US state of Maryland’s application of BRACE provided as an example illustrated through an interview with Dr. Clifford Mitchell, Director in the State Public Health Department's Environment Bureau. A ten-question multiple-choice quiz provides an opportunity to verify learning, and the analytical tools discussed in this module provide guidance for completion of the final course assignment.
Policies and Practices
Module IV provides concrete examples of promising climate health adaptive policies and practices, covering information-driven practices such as surveillance as well as early warning systems (including an assignment to identify/evaluate a real-life early warning system). Collaboration across non-health sectors -- particularly the physical infrastructure sectors including water, transport and electricity essential to city functioning -- is also covered, including an interview on financing of adaptive urban infrastructure with Bernard Sheahan, former Director of Infrastructure for the International Finance Corporation. Sessions on communicating on climate change and health (including a “how-to” tutorial) help build concrete skills. The course concludes with an interview with Dean Emeritus of JHSPH, Dr. Al Sommer, providing a forward-looking perspective on how public health can "speak up" on the challenges of climate change.
The final assignment is structured around application of concepts learned in the course to evaluation of the climate adaptation/action plan of a city or locality of the learner’s choice, which will be peer-graded based on a defined rubric.
Mary A. Fox, PhD MPH, Mary C. Sheehan, PhD MPH and Thomas A. Burke, PhD MPH