by Jeni Miller, PhD, June 17, 2013

ImageOn Friday the Public Health Institute, together with business groups, environmental organizations and an array of others, sent an open letter to California Governor Jerry Brown objecting to his decision to grab $500 million in cap-and-trade revenues for use in the state’s general fund. 

As part of its landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, California set up a cap-and-trade system to utilize market forces to reduce carbon emissions. The state has already held several carbon auctions, the revenue from which is supposed to go towards climate-change mitigation and adaptation. 

While the cap and trade system has flaws, most advocates agree that the financial support to address climate change directly comes at a time when it is desperately needed because climate change is worsening more quickly than anticipated. That is why we are disappointed and puzzled that Governor Brown’s budget revision “loans” $500 million to the general fund (out of an estimated $600 million total, from auctions in 2012-13 and auctions to be held in 2013-14), thereby gutting funding for the state’s efforts to protect against climate change.

By law a portion of cap-and-trade funds goes to activities to address the environmental and public health effects of climate change on the elderly, the very young and those communities most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts. In our letter, PHI and its partners raise major concerns that this so-called loan – with an unclear payback timeline – puts those activities in doubt. 

Diverting cap-and-trade revenues slows progress on addressing climate change at a time when it poses ongoing and increasing threats to health. For a governor who has expressed a strong commitment to fighting climate change, taking money away from climate change efforts is a disservice to public health and equity in California.

We therefore urge Governor Brown to protect public health and our environment by committing to repay this “loan” within this fiscal year of 2013-14, so that the critical, pressing work to prevent and address climate change can proceed. The health of our communities demands it.




by Y. Armando Nieto, June 14, 2013

“What’s Fathers’ Day got to do with climate change?”

 - Grace Rachow, Volunteer Coordinator, SBWC

I’ve spent the past week in Santa Barbara at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (SBWC), returning to a place where for twenty years I served on staff. This time my return was sparked by a keen sense of personal burnout—which staff at Community Food and Justice Coalition mirrored with clenched teeth and panic stricken eyes whenever I called for yet one more impromptu staff meeting.

Now my rehab is nearly complete and Fathers’ Day drawing close, I sit down with computer to write. 

I turn to Grace, who uttered the phrase above. Good question.

The easy answer is that we leave our children a world on the brink of environmental collapse and that ain’t what a good fathers’s supposed to do.

But I don’t think scare tactics and a flippant answer is appropriate for the subtext of Grace’s question.

I’d be a poor father for certain if I didn’t leave my daughter, and countless others with a message of hope, because that is one thing of value I have to offer after nearly sixty-two years on the planet.

Climate change like cheese whiz is one of the inevitable products of humankind. Unfortunately, it is likely climate change will adversely affect more lives than cheese whiz, and for that, on behalf of all grown men and women I take responsibility.

Because that is the other thing of most value that I leave my daughter this Fathers’ Day.

Unlike the world in which I was raised, among other things my daughter is the product of a society acculturated to dodging responsibility whenever possible. In the interests of keeping this piece light-hearted, I will spare you any of the many examples that pepper my public remarks. Suffice to say that we all are aware of the mess we have created as our legacy, fathers included.

And yet, as fathers we have been afforded perhaps the greatest gift of all.

Because the children are in revolt. And that is a very good thing, indeed.

In the course of my work I travel the country and experience a very palpable sense of dis-ease in communities everywhere, and, while it is not just the children who are dissatisfied with the state of current affairs, it is young people everywhere who are speaking up, taking to the streets, and emerging in public discourse to question a lack of action to effectively address climate change.

So, what better gift this Fathers’ Day?

By their actions they give hope that there is yet time to change the course of history, and the path of destruction the adults seem paralyzed to tackle.

What I can do in response, what we as fathers, and grown ups can do in response to this wonderful gift is to give in kind.

We can listen with open hearts and minds. We can draw strength from the vision and hope of our children. And we can act.

Decades past Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote the Children’s Crusade—which was actually the sub-title of a devastating novel entitled Slaughterhouse Five.  With Billy Pilgrim as the protagonist Mr. Vonnegut challenged us all to find hope amidst calamity and horror.

It will take more than this piece to change the path we have taken—outrageous consumption, a culture of greed, environmental destruction—but hand in hand with the children, we can make the change.

This Fathers’ Day I gratefully and humbly accept a gift of hope from the children. And re-dedicate my life to the business of doing my utmost to meet their expectations.

Happy Fathers’ Day, to fathers and father figures across the country and around the world. There is yet time to be worthy of the love, respect and hopes of our children.

For that, I am truly blessed.


Y. Armando Nieto is Executive Director of Community Food and Justice Coalition, a Project of the Public Health Institute.


by Joel Ervice, June 12, 2013

ImageI’m a new dad. Okay, new-ish. My son is sixteen months old, but he’s changing so quickly and learning so much that the experience of fatherhood is exhilarating. And, frankly, a little bit crazy between chasing after him, taking him to the park, reading colorful books, and all of the diaper changes and meals and dishes. It’s hard at times to see past the day-to-day. When he quiets, though, maybe snuggled up with a bottle or breathing sweetly as he sleeps, I find myself taking the long view. What kind of world will he live in? Will he be safe? Will he be healthy? As associate director for Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP), one of the issues I work on is climate change, and with climate change there’s cause for both hope and worry.

Climate change is one of the most profound public health issues of our generation – and the next. The warming of our planet will have major implications not just for the issue that I work on, asthma, but it presents a host of other challenges and potential catastrophes like temperature spikes, drought, flooding, agricultural crises, and all of the associated human suffering.

Why, as an asthma advocate, am I concerned about climate change? The connection isn’t hard to make. Rising temperatures will lead to increased levels of ozone and particulate pollution, both of which are implicated in asthma. Climate change brings increased pollen counts, too, which can trigger asthma. Here in California one in eight people has been diagnosed with asthma. With climate change, those numbers will likely get worse.   

We also know that the effects of climate change will hurt everyone, yes, but will hurt some much more than others, like low-income communities, the elderly, communities of color, and the very young. Climate change threatens our efforts to improve social equity, because it most affects those of us who already grapple with poverty, or live in polluted communities, or lack access to health care.

I’m proud of the work RAMP has done to date on climate change. We supported the passage and implementation of California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, and have fought efforts like Proposition 23 to roll it back. Currently, we’re deep into work to build the capacity of the public health field across California to address climate change. In the Bay Area, for the past three years we have strongly advocated for public health and social equity protections in the development of a regional transportation and land use plan. This Sustainable Communities Strategy has the potential to reduce the number of car vehicle miles traveled by residents of the Bay Area, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. Done right, we can also make sure that future development investments don’t add pollution to overburdened communities, or push low-income communities and communities of color out of their homes. Of course, all of this is only a start as there’s so much more we need to do.

I also know that tackling climate change can offer what we in public health call co-benefits. The communities that will grow out of the Sustainable Communities Strategy here in the Bay Area will have better bus and train systems. They will be more walkable and bikeable, and people won’t have such long commutes because they’ll live nearer to work and schools and shops. Because advocates like RAMP and others have pushed for it, the plan also makes sure that there will be more affordable housing so more people have clean, healthy and safe places to live. And if we tackle climate change right, we can even start to clean up the air and reduce asthma in some of the neighborhoods that currently deal with the worst pollution.

I want my son to grow up in a world where we’ve worked hard and managed to slow down climate change, a world where we’ve created healthier communities along the way, and a world in which those of us most vulnerable and in need came first. I want to be able to look him in the eye and say that when it came to climate change, we were up to the challenge. 


Joel Ervice is associate director for PHI’s Regional Asthma Management and Prevention. He will be spending this Father’s Day with his new(ish) son, Jasper.


by Jeni Miller, PhD, June 10, 2013

ImageHealthy, sustainable farms are the bedrock of a stable food supply, which in turn is the cornerstone of good nutrition and good health. Climate variability puts a tremendous strain on farms. Last week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a set of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) measures to help American farmers grapple with climate change. “Our farmers and ranchers” he said, “are on the front lines of identifying threats [to our food production] and adapting to meet them.” Vilsack cited the dangers to crops posed by drought, storms and flooding, changing temperatures, and increased pests. He added that the agriculture sector has an important role to play, as well, in preventing climate change.

To help with all of this, the USDA is establishing regional hubs that will guide farmers on using climate-resilient techniques, and it has developed an online tool that will measure the contributions farms make to capturing carbon. Tools and support to help farmers tackle the challenges of climate change are not only good for agriculture, they’re good for our health.

When climate change reduces crop yields and makes healthy food less affordable or even unavailable, people suffer. In other parts of the world we’ve already seen climate-related hunger, with more projected; and while U.S. families have not yet felt the pinch, this could quickly change. Helping farmers in the U.S. to implement climate resilient farming practices will be essential to securing our food supply in the face of increasing climate variability.

At the same time, U.S. agriculture currently contributes 8% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, farms and forests offer important opportunities to both capture carbon and reduce emissions. Such efforts would offer immediate co-benefits to health. For example, in California’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley, local geography combines with agricultural emissions to contribute to some of the worst air quality in the country. Reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions immediately improves health by giving everyone in the region cleaner air to breathe, while improving health prospects in the long term by mitigating climate change.

Because the connection between the food system and health is a powerful one, the Public Health Institute has been working for years to improve food systems in ways both large and small. From projects that have created community gardens so that neighbors can grow their own fresh produce, to recurring Farm Bill advocacy to protect nutrition programs and support healthy farms, to research and advocacy on climate change, agriculture and nutrition, PHI has recognized that healthy, equitable, climate resilient farms are essential for a healthy, equitable and climate resilient nation.

Some of PHI’s work on agriculture and health, and on climate change, agriculture and health:

As part of the Healthy Farms, Healthy People Coalition, PHI works on policy change to promote health, while strengthening the economic and environmental viability of the food and agricultural sectors. Our 2011 paper Do Farm Subsidies Cause Obesity? Dispelling Common Myths about Public Health and the Farm Bill, co-authored with Food & Water Watch, reviews the economic and policy literature to challenge the truism that farm subsidies have contributed to the obesity epidemic. The paper concludes with recommendations for reforming farm policies in ways that strengthen and stabilize prices and farm incomes while also expanding access to healthy, affordable produce. 

PHI’s Community Food and Justice Coalition works to improve food systems, increase food system equity, and address the impact of climate change on agriculture. CFJC frequently partners with CalCAN (the California Climate & Agriculture Network), on issues related to strengthening food system resilience, and fostering climate change mitigation in the agriculture sector.

Our fact sheet, Sustainable Food Systems: Benefits for Climate Change and Health, maps out the links among food systems, climate change and health, and tells how to get involved in creating sustainable food systems.

Our policy brief, Food and Nutrition Security, Health and Gender Equality: Partnerships for climate-resilient sustainable development, co-authored with the World Health Organization and others, focuses on the role that women play in securing food systems, protecting nutrition and addressing climate change in some of the most climate-impacted agricultural zones in the world. See also PHI’s Enhancing Women’s Leadership to Address the Challenges of Climate Change on Nutrition Security and Health.

Through its Healthy Eating, Active Communities program, PHI worked to make fresh, locally grown produce available in communities, working with farmers like Johanna Trenerry (video) in Shasta County, California. 


by Staff, May 29, 2013

It is well established, if insufficiently acknowledged, that climate change is having and will continue to have significant harmful impacts on human health. A 2009 article in The Lancet described climate change as perhaps “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” The American Public Health Association (APHA) has called climate change an “urgent threat” to health, and has emphasized that “local public health professionals around the country increasingly will be dealing with the impacts of climate change on the ground, every day.”  These threats to health from climate change require robust, comprehensive action that engages all levels of government. That is why the Public Health Institute has signed on in support of U.S. Representative Lois Capps' Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act, which would give the Department of Health and Human Services the mandate to prepare the nation’s public health systems to address those impacts.

Congresswoman Capps’ legislation charges DHHS with developing a national strategic plan, and preparing public health and health care practitioners to deal with the effects of climate change on people’s health. The bill maps out the research, planning, training and communications activities required to do so. It is a forward looking approach to a major crisis that is, increasingly, upon us. For this reason, the Public Health Institute has joined with the APHA, the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and other health organizations, in support of the bill.

Data about the direct health implications of climate change continues to accumulate. Heat-related deaths in New York City, a recent study finds, are likely to increase 20% by the 2020s, and 90% by the 2080s. In California, already a state with the “worst air quality in the nation,” air pollution currently causes 8,800 deaths per year; with current emission trajectories, climate change is predicted to increase the number of days conducive to forming air pollution by 75-80% in Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. Lung health for allergy sufferers will also be affected as the spring pollen season starts earlier and lasts longer. The season for ragweed has already increased by as much as 27 days since 1995 in some places, and is producing more pollen even where the length of the season has remained the same. Higher temperatures are increasing vector-, food- and waterborne diseases in the U.S., such as West Nile Virus and Lyme disease, Salmonella and Giardia. Climate change also affects health indirectly, through droughts that damage crop yields, making healthy food less available or affordable; strain on fresh drinking water supplies; and through the short- and long-term dislocation of communities caused by extreme weather events such as Sandy or Katrina or by the loss of coastal communities due to rising sea levels.

To protect human health in the U.S. and globally, it is vitally important to address the causes of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Legislation such as California’s Assembly Bill 32 (2006) and the Climate Protection Act of 2013 proposed in the U.S. Senate, as well as regulations that could be implemented by the EPA, could all help to prevent further climate change and even greater harm to health.

But some of the effects of climate change are already well underway, and even halting emissions immediately will not protect us from all of them. While we must do everything in our power to prevent additional climate change, we must also prepare for the climate change already in progress. Capps’ legislation would allow us to do just that – plan for impacts to health that we know are coming, so that the U.S. is resilient and ready to face this challenge. Capps’ bill would give public health and health care professionals the tools and preparation they need to best protect our health as we weather a changing climate.


by Charlotta Chan, MEM, May 20, 2013

In celebration of National Bike Month this May, millions of people across the U.S. are leaving their car keys at home and taking to the streets to bike to where they need to go. By saddling up, these cyclists decrease their carbon footprint while simultaneously reducing their chances of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Currently, the transportation sector accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making it the second largest contributor of emissions after the electricity sector. About half of transportation emissions come from passenger vehicles, meaning the cars and light trucks each of us drive to go to work, to friends, to the doctor, or anywhere else. By replacing these miles traveled by passenger vehicles by miles traveled by bike, we can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is no small impact either; the EPA sees biking and other forms of active transportation as a key strategy for reducing emissions associated with passenger vehicles.

 By taking action on climate change-causing vehicles, we also gain a number of co- benefits to public health. Researchers from San Francisco quantified the public health co-benefits of reduced automotive use, and found that biking and other forms of physical transportation reduced the chances of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 14%. Biking can also help with weight management, which is critical as over two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Moreover, fewer cars on the streets mean fewer pollutants that cause respiratory illness and aggravated asthma.

 Bike promotion as a climate and health strategy has grown exponentially in the past few years. Cities across the nation have been adding more and more bike paths as demand for them accelerates, and additionally providing commuter resources to facilitate biking. Bike paths are increasingly incorporated into Climate Action Plans and city plans, in a way that acknowledges health co-benefits and addresses areas to improve bike and pedestrian safety. While there is still a long way to go in terms of reducing dependence on passenger vehicles, the actions people and cities are taking together now is definitely a pedal in the right direction.