Fed Creates Office for Climate, Health, and Equity

Protest poster that says "Climate health = human health"

Image: chrisyakimov, CreativeCommons

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

 

The connection between public health and the climate crisis now has a specific home in the federal government. On Monday, the Biden administration announced the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, housed within the Department of Health and Human Services. This week’s announcement came as wildfires are creating hazardous air quality in the West and Hurricane Ida barrels inland after making landfall in Louisiana, which is facing a public health emergency. The office has three focus areas to start:

  • building resilience to climate health impacts
  • working with hospitals to reduce their emissions and build resiliency
  • combining climate resilience with health equity

Why This Matters: Climate change is a massive threat to public health, and it’s having a disproportionate impact on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. With an explicit emphasis on equity, the new office will approach climate-related health issues focusing on those most impacted. Creating federal programming that acknowledges both the health threat of climate change and its unequal impact could help address issues like urban heat islands and prepare infrastructure to withstand more extreme weather.   

There is no doubt that America is experiencing climate change, and there is no reason for us to doubt that we must take this on immediately because it’s not just about the climate, it’s not just about our environment. It’s about our health,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said

How climate and health intersect: The climate crisis has many overlapping intersections with people’s health. In the U.S., there are massive disparities in health care, starting with access to affordable care through insurance.

“There’s a saying that if white people catch a cold, Black people catch pneumonia,” Beverly Malone, chief executive of the National League for Nursing, told The New York Times. “Health equity has a lot to do with where you live, and we have understood the linkage.”

That place-based connection is often linked to what housing people can afford—Is it in a flood zone? Is the building air-conditioned? Is it near a chemical plant? All of these factors impact people’s health.

For example, there are currently massive power outages across Louisiana after Hurricane Ida rapidly intensified into a Category 4 storm that downed power lines across the state. Those who didn’t evacuate—by choice or because they were financially or physically unable to leave town—will be living without air conditioning during the hottest time of year. This summer, there have already been multiple heat advisory days where the humidity helped push the heat index above 110 degrees.

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