Blue Track (C-18): Air Quality and Heat Stress

- Session Description (click to collapse)

In this session, we will continue to discuss data gaps and actionable information, but this session will focus specifically on what data are needed to allow decision-makers to better decide how to adapt to the effects of climate change on air quality and heat stress. There are many ways to categorize adaptation strategies. To reduce public health impacts of poor air quality, there are two main categories for action:

  • Improve air quality
  • Reduce exposure to poor air quality

A similar dichotomy can be employed for reducing impacts from heat stress:

  • Reduce the frequency and severity of heat waves
  • Reduce exposure to extreme heat

When considering options, the public health concept of co-benefits should be considered. Which actions will result in improved health and help stabilize the climate?

This session will begin with a brief presentation about what broad criteria public health practitioners use to make decisions in general.

Recommended Resources

- Moderator (click to collapse)

Cindy Parker
Cindy Parker

Cindy Parker is an Assistant Professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences; co-Director of the Program on Global Sustainability and Health; co-Director of the M.P.H. Concentration in Global Environmental Sustainability and Health; and Associate Director of the Environment, Energy, Sustainability, and Health Institute. She works on climate change policy change initiatives for the state of Maryland and nationally. Her interests include how global environmental issues such as climate change are communicated in such a way as to motivate behavior change. The interplay between peak oil and climate change is another area of interest, as is working with communities to solve local and global environmental problems and sustainable development issues.

Dr. Parker’s honors and awards include induction into the Delta Omega Alpha Public Health Honor Society in 2000, a 1987–1988 American Association of University Women Educational Fellowship, a 1986 Edith Petrie Brown Award for Outstanding Community Service to Women, a 1986 Ciba Geigy Award for Outstanding Community Service, and a 1984 Schaible Memorial Award for Outstanding Biology Student of the Year.


M.P.H., The Johns Hopkins University, 2000
M.D., University of Arizona, 1988

- Notes (click to collapse)

Blue Track: Air Quality and Heat Stress

Afternoon Session
Cindy Parker (Moderator)



Recap: Comments on GAIA website are all user-attributed
- Comments are part of the permanent record, but not all will be addressed or answered in the session

Platonova et al. 2011 article: Table demonstrates criteria public health policy makers use to make health decisions
- Blurring between objective and subjective criteria for decision making
- Often resort to subjective criteria
- Adaptation strategies must also be thought of in terms of how they can be presented and used by decision makers

- Example of real world, subjective decision making: PH officer from WI was trying to close a sushi restaurant for food safety violations.  Officials did not respond to data, but when a platter of warm sushi was offered to them, the decision was made in favor of closing the restaurant.

- What is the legal liability of the state? Does this influence down-playing public health risks?
- How does media involvement influence political decisions?


Climate change scientists vs. Public health practitioners:
- For example, NOAA does not address health, stating that historically there has been little interest from professionals in health care
- Does climate change distract from health initiatives?
- What needs to happen in order for health to be invited to the table?
- Does climate change perspective need health or does health perspective need climate change?
- Targeted vs. general policy pressure
> Issue: Public health discourse is forced to censor statements in areas where climate change data is controversial (eg. Arizona)

Heat stress is straightforward and important to address in this group
- Planning
- Resources
- Policy

- We respond to heat stress as acute episodes, but perhaps we need to look at the long term climate change impact on heat stress.  How do we address the built environment in order to reduce urban heat islands.

- Framing efforts to raise consciousness: "Fallout shelters for heat"
- Public Service Announcement (PSA) for heat stress: target protecting vulnerable populations (contact elderly)
- Already some going on (Heatline, buddy system, etc.)
- Need to identify case studies of where this is happening and what are best-practices
- Increase telecommunication
- Household vegetable gardening instead of yard maintenance (nutritional improvement, reduced pollution,  
  reduced emissions, etc) Start locally!
- Local self-reliance
- Must consider implications of adaptation strategies (i.e. air conditioners in repsonse to heat stress 
  increase GHG emissions)
- Rural populations may have valuable connections to natural environments (less consumption of energy, 
  materials, etc.)
- Responsible consumption for all 
   > Involve politicians and shape policy to encourage these changes
   > Perspective of rural US: our system fosters intensive energy consumption
   > Cluster development/urban energy efficiency may be the way of the future
   > Example: Rural US Amish communities may be best model for rural low-impact communities, however, these 
     are the exception and may not work for 7 billion people
   > Underlying message: value low consumption lifestyle and respect cultural values
   > European model seems to have more political support for low consumption and low pollution measures

Discussion of Issues:
- Need to address urban AND rural populations, but important to have accurate adaptation strategies for 
  both groups (different in rural areas)
- Need to relate problems differently to different people (urban families vs. migrant laborers, etc)
- Need understanding of heat stress in public: Use systems approach to energy consumption and use
- Cost:Benefit Analysis is essential: how do we make it cost effective to make these adaptation changes
- How do we communicate norms for adaptation strategies
- Our current system is not only driven by economics because energy policy encourages heavy subsidies. What 
  are levels of subsidies already present in energy policy and management? What kind of new sustainable energy 
  infrastructure can we implement to address rural/urban/multiple realities?
- Discourse on cost-effectiveness is not as important or informative as long-term view 
   > Long-term cost effectiveness might be a scale to be used
   > What is the most effective strategy?  Cost effectiveness is still an issue that weighs into decisions
   > Inherent value judgement should be more explicitly realized
- Heat stress and long term trends in mortality took a long time to demonstrate: this demonstrates that the 
  process takes time
   > Example: Research for mitigation of pavement and urban heat in AZ brings together many disciplines.  
     Involves science, policy, media, etc.
   > Susceptibility to environmental stress may indicate mortality: identify vulnerable populations before 
     heat stress events
   > Physicians see increased rates of respiratory disease: is this attributable to air pollution?  how do 
     we respond?
- Heat wave in Europe, 2003: Both families and doctors go on holiday and elderly people were left alone 
  with less social infrastructure to seek services
   > Response: technology shows hottest spots in the city and identifies cool places to go to

Actionable Items: 
- cataloging best-practices to respond to heat stress

Prioritized topics for further development:
Heat Stress
 1. System approach to show how heat stress fits into bigger picture
 2. Identify best-practices for addressing heat stress 
    a. Urban policy measures already in place that can inform policy
    b. Rural policy: what are appropriate rural adaptation or mitigation strategies
 3. Clarify link between heat stress and air quality
    a. Air quality and heat stress linked in the big picture
    b. Heat stress may be addressed individual management/response




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Petroleum Scarcity and Public by Robert.Schaefer
C Parker and Health by Robert.Schaefer
Platanova, et al. by Robert.Schaefer