This past weekend, the International Association of Adolescent Health held their international conference for doctors who specialize in adolescent health and for some teens and young adults themselves. As part of this conference, I had a chance to help organize and moderate an Environmental Health and Climate Action Workshop, along with some other young adults from around the world.
In the past decades, the frequency and the intensity of climate extreme events in our planet have become higher and according to data-based projections, the trend will continue if we, as a global and interdependent society, keep harming the environment with detrimental and outmoded systems of living (production, transportation, consumption, etc.). As a result, the impact of climate change on health and well-being will rise, affecting mainly the most disadvantaged including, but not limited to, children and adolescents due to inequalities within and between countries. Particularly in the adolescent population, this topic is one of the most important, not only because of its impact on their well-being, but also because of the interest of this population in being part of the change, by means of activism, advocacy and operative roles within our communities. Climate change and extreme climate events have a detrimental impact, mainly on the youngest population and will continue to impact them along the course of their life. Numerous studies suggest that, besides the detriment on physical health; this group is especially vulnerable to mental disorders (depression and PTSD) and distress, mainly when factors such as reduced preparedness to climate events or disasters, parental injuries and pre-existing psychological vulnerabilities. Therefore, the action or in-action on environmental health must be seen as a factor that catalyzes the social determinants of health, leading to the growth and intensification of gaps and also to the worsening of the worldwide economies.
At the workshop, health officials and scientists from around the world, including Canada, Colombia, Peru, Uganda, and the United States, came together to present the ways in which the climate is detrimental to our physical health in a multitude of ways. These speakers presented in either Spanish or English at this multilingual session, with people from around the globe. At the workshop, many of the speakers discussed the impacts of air pollution on health in relation to the different situations in each country, discussing a range of factors, from smoking and car pollution, to industrial air pollution. Speakers discussed the ways in which air pollution affected health in different ways across the globe, spanning from being caused by different factors and living situations, to how it was being handled in different places. A speaker from Cameroon shared the health impacts of air pollution there, primarily caused by the results of burning waste and the waste management system in place, and the impacts of indoor air pollution from smoke from cooking fires. At the same time, another speaker from México shared the main contributors to air pollution there, vehicular pollution, and tobacco. Speakers were able to share the unique situations of how climate change and air pollution affects people globally, ranging from different situations to different solutions.
While this topic was common among speakers, others introduced those in attendance to newer topics, such as one of the speakers, who discussed the implementation of climate related health programs in healthcare education systems in Ireland and the Netherlands, or another, who discussed his role as a young adult and advocate for climate policy in relation to healthcare. Overall, speakers discussed a variety of topics with the audience, emphasizing the impacts of the climate on health, and the need for more climate education in relation to the impact it has on climate change, both for younger students and students in higher education.
As we left the conference call, some of the parting words that we were left with, as moderators, speakers, and for the audience, was to hold your head up, for as long as some believe in the need for change, they will be there to push for it. On Friday, just a week after COP26, I was excited to see all of our work as moderators and organizers come to fruition, bringing together speakers with different backgrounds from around the world to share why they did what they did and the importance of their work surrounding the changing climate and our health as a global community.
Image Source: https://iaah2020congress.org/en