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Sustainability

Should public health be involved?

There’s a great video that I include in my systems thinking resource that I developed for students, or anyone else who wants to learn about the topic. The video is about gender mainstreaming. The first example is how using gender mainstreaming identified problems with snow clearing policies in a city in Sweden. By changing the lens, they figured out that clearing communities first led to reduced injuries and savings in healthcare spending without changing the budget for snow removal.

I’m guessing that it isn’t normal practice in many situations that look at areas that are not obviously health related to include public health representatives. But many decisions do impact public health. Every plant that I bring into my house gets, at minimum, a check to make sure that if my cats get to the plant they will be fine. If I’m feeling ambitious (or asthmatic) I’ll also check out the air cleaning potential for the plant.

Then there are decisions and plans that get made that have obvious public health implications. Climate adaptation is one of these areas. Climate change has many health implications from increased heat to increased exposure to infectious diseases. But that doesn’t always mean that public health officials are involved in creating these plans.

Sheehan et al (2022) examined the climate adaptation plans for 22 large cities around the globe. All 22 included public health considerations and implications but only 73% of those cities included a public health agency in developing the plan. Interestingly, higher income cities were less likely to include a public health agency.

Perhaps, we might assume that the adaptation plans were developed by a climate related agency within each city and, therefore, they didn’t consult any other agencies. However, the reality is that groups like urban planning, public utilities, and emergency planning were all involved even when public health was not.

The nature of systems is that they are complex with many interacting pieces. Climate and climate adaptation are incredibly complex and they will require all hands to address them effectively. It seems to me, that if you’re already recognizing that there are public health implications, you would also want the involvement of public health agencies. Wouldn’t that potentially lead to better solutions?

Interdisciplinary teams are essential to mitigating and adapting to climate change, but that requires being able to talk with people from different disciplines and come together to identify and work towards shared goals. So the next time someone asks “do you think we should talk to…”, the answer is yes.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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