The federal government needs tailors.
At least, that’s what John Barbus thinks. As the first interim director of the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in the history of the Department of Health and Human Services, Barbus said that the federal government already has much needed to help communities improve their resilience to climate change. It also has everything it needs to support communities that have been marginalized for a long time and have suffered health damage as a result.
He just needs to stitch them together.
“There is no need to say,’Well, you are working on health equity, now come to another room and work on climate change,'” he told E&E News last week. “The work is the same. It needs to be fully integrated and unified.”
Officials say that after a summer, heat waves, wildfires and hurricanes have highlighted the lethality of climate change—especially among vulnerable people—the need for a federal office focused on climate change and equity may never have been so strong. .
“The west is burning, Louisiana is hitting hard, flooding in one place, water shortage in another-obviously these extreme conditions are damaging our health, so we must do everything we can,” HHS Minister Xavier Becerra said in two weeks. Said in the press conference of the former office.
In fact, just a few days later, the EPA issued a peer review report detailing all the ways in which climate change will have a disproportionate impact on people of color. Among other findings, the report outlines how black Americans are living in areas where extreme temperature-related deaths are expected to increase the most by 40%, and how Hispanics and Latino Americans are living in areas where the number of deaths is expected to decrease the most. The regional probability is 43% higher. Labor time due to extreme temperatures.
The same people living in climate-vulnerable areas are also more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions, which puts them at greater risk in the event of extreme weather.
Barbas himself is no stranger to these issues. He led the details of the office after serving as a senior consultant for public health at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and wrote the chapter on human health impacts of the Fourth National Climate Assessment.
His former boss, Linda Birnbaum, who directed NIEHS for ten years, called Barbas’ work in the field “inspiring.”
“Climate change has always been his treasure,” she said, adding that “it is exciting that the sectoral level finally recognizes the need to pay attention to the impact of climate change on human health.”
After two weeks of work, Barbus said he already had a “very big plate.”
The office’s priorities range from promoting climate adaptation and resilience innovation in disadvantaged communities, to promoting training opportunities for climate and health workers, to cooperating with non-profit organizations, the private sector and community groups, and even assisting in regulatory efforts to reduce the overall process Of greenhouse gas emissions. Healthcare sector.
Cooperation with NOAA is already underway to ensure that the agency’s seasonal health forecasts are “linked to response mechanisms” so that the local health system can prepare for extreme weather. The office is also working with the National Academy of Medicine, which recently launched its own climate change and health initiative.
Barbus told E&E News that he plans to have office workers help ensure that infrastructure investments made by the federal government will improve climate resilience and reduce health disparities. He pointed out that lack of green space, adequate transportation and nutrition will negatively affect the health of communities of color and make them more vulnerable to climate change.
He also hopes that the office will focus on reducing emissions from the health sector itself, which accounts for approximately 8.5% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The federal government itself is a major healthcare provider, operating hospitals through the Ministry of Veterans Affairs and the Ministry of Health Services of India. HHS’s mission is to reduce emissions from these facilities in order to achieve President Biden’s goal of reducing federal greenhouse gas emissions.
HHS also has considerable influence on private hospitals. Balbus and Becerra said they will seriously consider advice from climate-conscious health policy experts. They said the agency should use Medicare and Medicaid Service Center reimbursement policies to pressure hospitals to reduce their own emissions.green Line, December 8, 2020).
“We will make the most of every power because now is the time to tackle climate change. If we think there is a way to do this, and if we have the tools and authority to do it, we will take action,” Becerra said at a press conference last month.
Similarly, Barbus said that the new office is coordinating with the Office of the Children and Families Administration to understand how to use their low-income household energy assistance program (traditionally focused on heating needs) to provide more to economically disadvantaged households Opportunities to use air conditioners (green Line, August 23).
“This is an example of what we are looking to do,” he said.
‘A small engine that can’
Although the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity seems to have endless priorities, some people worry that it does not have enough resources to get the job done.
The Biden administration has applied to Congress for US$3 million to fund the office, which will cover the cost of approximately 8 employees. As of now, many members of the office are like Barbas-obtaining details from other departments of HHS to fund their positions.
“For the work that needs to be done, this is a small budget,” Birnbaum said.
Ed Maibach, head of the Climate Change Communication Center at George Mason University, agreed.
“The amount of work they need to do to prepare HHS and our federal government for climate change is more than this small new office can do,” he said. “It should be doubled or quadrupled immediately and given a budget commensurate with the tasks they undertake.”
Becerra has not forgotten this. He called the office a “small engine” last month and expressed his hope that the office will grow and develop over time.
He said: “This office will become a permanent fixture for HHS, and it will grow because the needs and challenges are absolutely there.”
Barbus added that he hopes to “replenish” these employees with researchers and interns – and that some of the office’s scholarships will be dedicated to minorities to ensure that the office “reflects the diversity of the people we serve.” .
Maybach also wants to know how successful the office can be, because according to a survey conducted by his Climate Change Communication Center, “most people think that climate change is a problem for penguins and polar bears.”
“They don’t understand that our skin is in the game, literally, in our own health,” he said.
But Kathy Bowman McLeod, director of the Adrienne Asht-Rockefeller Foundation’s Center for Resilience, says that sometimes it is enough to devote a small group of people to a cause.
Based on this concept, her organization sponsored the position of “Thermal Officer” in global cities including Miami (green Line, June 1).
“Let a person wake up every day to think about climate change, especially for vulnerable groups, which will have a positive impact on health,” she said. “These communities have no say. It is a big deal to incorporate this eight-person team into the federal government.”
Arsenio Mataka, senior adviser on climate change and health equity in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health at HHS, agrees.
He likened the new climate change office to his experience in the California government, where he worked with Becerra of the California Department of Justice and served as the California Environmental Protection Agency’s top environmental justice official from 2011 to 2017.
“When I went to the California Environmental Protection Agency, the first thing they thought of was not environmental justice-but the traditional view of the environment,’Don’t talk about race or the poor,'” he said. “Moving and changing it requires internal effort.”
He said that the establishment of an office dedicated to climate change and equity within HHS will have a similar impact on the health sector.
“You have to build infrastructure within the government to solve these problems,” he said. “And we are just beginning.”
forward from Electronics News With permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.