EOH Alumni, Students, and Professors Participate in White House Event

Two key EOH faculty members and eight alumni were on hand when the White House recently brought together researchers, educators, organizations, community leaders, and other stakeholders to discuss the implications of climate change for public health. Dean Lynn Goldman, who is an EOH professor, was a speaker and EOH Department Chair Melissa Perry was an invited participant at the event where the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released its latest report, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.” The report offers the strongest evidence to date linking climate change to health risks. Three years in the making, the report, reviewed by the National Academies of Science, is the work of nearly 100 experts in climate change science and public health from eight government agencies.

USGCRP Health Lead and 2015 EOH alumnus Mark Shimamoto (Environmental Health Science and Policy (ESH&P) MPH) is a contributing author of the report and played a key role in developing the White House event’s agenda. His fellow alumni and colleagues at USGCRP and its board of directors, Sarah Zerbonne (2016 EHS&P MPH) and Amanda McQueen (2014 EHS&P MPH), respectively, also supported the success of the report’s release.

In captivating and practical ways, the event brought the report’s nexus of public health and environmental science to light. Opening with a dialogue between John Holdren, White House senior advisor on science and technology, and Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, on how to act on science at policy levels, the event allowed several of the expert co-authors to share an exchange on many ways climate change could play out to alter our environment and health. Diverse community stakeholders explained how the report can help communities prepare for the impacts, including building a strong workforce ready to address the changes, while others shared the effects they are already seeing in action. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy provided closing remarks.

The community stakeholders in attendance represented a broad range of experts who are working to combat the health risks from climate change. In addition to Shimamoto, McQueen and Zerbonne, the invited attendees included EOH alumni Lieutenant Laura Annetta (2010 EHS&P MPH; currently serving in the U.S. Public Health Service), Kathleen Carlson (2016 Global Environmental Health (GEH) MPH and Physician Assistant), Nina Hwang (2015 GEH MPH; currently at the Natural Resources Defense Council), Jordan Teague (2014 GEH MPH; currently at Bread for the World), Kelly Worden (2014 GEH MPH; currently at the U.S. Green Business Council).

In the short time since the report’s release, it has garnered tremendous support for its findings and extensive media coverage. The Associated Press quoted Dean Goldman, who pointed out the connection between global warming and increasing asthma attacks in children.

When asked how his EOH studies help prepare him for his current role with USGCRP, Shimamoto explained that through his classwork he gained the knowledge and technical experience necessary to underpin his work to research and communicate about science accurately and clearly. He started working with USGCRP his second semester at GW and says, “The ability to apply educational lessons in a real world setting was incredibly worthwhile. There was a nice harmonization between my MPH studies and my work experience that was very valuable in preparing me for this role.”  Shimamoto also coordinated an event held at GW soon after the report was released for public comment that featured the report’s expert authors and resulted in lively discussion.

Perry, an avid promoter of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) recently launched an online MPH course Researching Climate Change and Human Health that follows the NCA framework. Reflecting on the event, she says: “I commend all the Milken Institute SPH alumni and students in attendance for their passion and dedication, and I am continually impressed with the intellect and abilities that they bring to the ever-challenging and growing issues of climate change. I’m pleased with the outcomes demonstrated by our department’s curriculum, location, and strong network of contacts. Our alumni were influential in creating this event and they continue to affect national policy around climate change.”