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Experts Discuss: Can Climate Change Spur Health Opportunities?

Upcoming conference sponsored by the Oregon Environmental Council will focus on threats to health and well-being from climate change.
April 9, 2015

OPINION -- Seven out of ten doctors report that climate change is currently contributing to health problems in their patients, according to a recent study by the American Thoracic Society. What’s more, Oregon’s current drought is consistent with a changing climate, and is the kind of drought predicted to cause food and water insecurity, income loss and exacerbated mental health challenges according to the Oregon Health Authority. How can a changing climate possibly be good news for health?

Julia Novy-Hildesley, founder of Resilience in Action, says that climate change demands a shift in strategies; and such a shift has the potential to build resilient communities that “not only survive, but thrive through the inevitable challenges ahead.” Novy-Hildesty will describe such strategies at a lunchtime talk at the Northwest Environmental Health Conference on April 17 in Portland.

The Northwest Environmental Health conference is the Northwest’s premier opportunity to build bridges across health disciplines to address today’s most pressing environmental challenges. In its 7th year, the conference will focus on threats to health and well-being from climate change, and ways to build health resiliency in preparation for changes to come.

Dr. John Balbus of the National Institute of Environmental Health Science will open the conference with a keynote address summarizing the science behind aligning health outcomes with climate outcomes–underscoring that there are choices before us that have the potential to address current health crises and inequities at the same time. Other conference sessions will profile local solutions, from transportation planning to clinical care, that align health and environmental goals.

Dr. Sue Koger of Willamette University emphasizes the importance of a focus on solutions. She notes that directing public attention solely to climate disaster is counterproductive, contributing to despair rather than action. Dr. Koger will discuss how “practices that enhance resilience to stress” are inherently sustainable and are a key strategy for health.

These practices will be key as Oregon Health Authority develops a statewide Climate and Health Adaptation Plan, which “will provide a set of recommendations for policies and practices that build our collective resilience and adaptive capacity.”

The April 17th conference, open to the public, will also cover a wide range of emerging environmental health science, policy and practice, including air and water quality, research on toxic exposures, and current challenges to science in policymaking. Student rates and continuing education credits are available. Register online at

Link 1: American Thoracic Society

Link 2: drought

Link 3: OHA

Link 4: conference

Jen Coleman is the outreach director for the Oregon Environmental Council.