When many of us think about health and how to improve it for ourselves and for others, we envision hospitals, healthy foods, physical activity, and lifesaving devices. But what about visions of clean air, accessible and abundant water, and moderate temperatures? Although these may not be the first things that come to mind, the reality is that health is intrinsically tied to the natural and built environments around us.
In the United States and around the world, pollution and the effects of climate change—including heat waves and floods—are contributing to disease, premature deaths, and increased adverse health risks. The link between climate and health is particularly apparent in vulnerable communities where access to a healthy environment is often limited. While we may not be able to solve climate change, there are many highly-effective ways to improve our health and well-being while simultaneously protecting the earth.
At the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, environmental considerations are often integral to our efforts to reduce the prevalence of preventable health outcomes, alleviate health inequities and disparities, and reduce health care costs. For example, through our Community Health Transformation Blueprints, we utilize a framework that maps the climate change processes against the social determinants of health and have implemented many sustainable solutions that are resulting in healthier communities and a healthier environment.
In Houston, community stakeholders identified the lack of public green spaces as an impediment to improving health. Access to safe spaces where people could exercise was limited. To address this issue, the city committed to increasing neighborhood green space and connecting bicyclists and pedestrians to bayou greenways. Similarly, our community partners in Central Arkansas committed to increasing physical activity by creating bicycle paths and more diverse modes of transportation. These efforts have the dual benefit of improving health through exercise and reducing the cities’ carbon footprints.
Another example of climate and health intersecting is the health improvement work being undertaken by our partners in the Coachella Valley. There, pollution and poor air quality leads to a number of health issues, including chronic arthritis, asthma, and allergies. To improve health for residents, the Valley will implement a “Non-motorized Transportation Plan” to reduce emissions that cause ozone pollution. Partners are also looking to find ecologically-sound ways to address the public health concerns of the Salton Sea. The sea’s receding shoreline threatens to stir up dust and make breathing and other respiratory issues even more difficult. Preserving the sea is not only a health priority, but an ecological one as well as preserving the sea will protect the habitat on which wildlife depends.
These and many other examples underscore the strong correlation between improving health and improving the environment. Curing our ills and curing the environment go hand-in-hand.
In recognition of Earth Day, the Clinton Foundation is showing how climate change and sustainability are at the root of many pressing global issues. Our Earth Day 2015 series will feature different voices across our initiatives, to highlight the ways in which the Earth can be used as a valuable resource to advance progress within our focus areas on an individual, community, and global level.