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Climate Change and Prevention


What has climate change to do with prevention? As we look at our Etiology Model, which identifies the primary influences over people’s health and development, we can see how the dramatic changes wrought by the extremes of weather and potential long-term climate effects can significantly impact populations. We know that the Etiology Model looks at how the physical, social and economic factors in the macro-environment can impact on health and behavior. Cognizant of these factors, we recently added a new element to our Implementation Cycle planning model called Community Context which points to the importance of the physical setting as the back-drop for our work. As prevention professionals we can incorporate climate concerns into some of our collaborative planning with communities who are struggling to address this looming problem.


Concern about climate change arises knowing that changing climate will affect sea levels, temperatures, precipitation distribution, water supplies, crop yields and our food chain. So climate change affects daily life, raises stress levels, and impacts health and safety. It affects the overall well-being and even survival!


This graphic from the World Meteorological Organization summarizes the risks associated with climate change and how many people will be impacted by these changes. [1]These changes not only impact the extremes in weather (hurricanes, tornadoes, periods of drought) but also the impact on the environments and the emotional and physical health of the populations.


In this graphic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide an overview of those mental and physical health effects of climate and climate change:[2] Air pollution associated with asthma and cardiovascular disease; affected water quality impacting infectious diseases such as malaria; severe weather producing injuries, heat-related illness and stresses on emotional health; and environmental degradation producing dire temperature changes, drought leading to hunger, deaths, forced migration and even civil conflicts. In addition climate change is predicted to impact the global economy (https://www.epa.gov/ ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data).


How can prevention professionals help communities incorporate these climate challenges into their work in prevention? Recently we have been hearing reports about the potential impact of COVID-19 on those experiencing substance use and mental disorders. The lockdowns of community services in addition to the isolation that prevents others from seeing and initiating interventions are leading to increases in overdoses and suicides.[3] In similar ways, climate effects are associated with floods, fires, tornados that wipe out the homes of people in our communities; blizzards close schools, work, communications; drought is hurting farmers and the local economy. We often think of these as temporary phenomenon—so we can’t deliver our school-based intervention; or we have lost the opportunity of working in that neighborhood because of the floods. But climate change has a broader and more permanent challenge—maybe those apartment dwellers will remain in temporary housing or homeless; or the farmers will lose their farm. How do we help in our work to address some of these situations that may need other types of preventive interventions in a sustainable way?


As one guide, the chart below shows the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations[4] for countries to “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Prevention professionals can have a role to play in many of these goals. Some of their work directly applies to addressing Goals 3, 4, 8, 16, and 17 and some relate more indirectly around Goals 5, 10, and 11 through their work with communities. Let’s look more closely at the direct goals.


Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being - Prevention professionals work to support the quality and sustained delivery of evidence-based (EB) prevention interventions that address psychoactive substance use, suicidal ideation, violence, depression, sexually transmitted infections, etc., and the appropriate enforcement of policies related to health such as restricting the availability and accessibility of psychoactive substances to children and adolescents.


Goal 4: Quality Education – Prevention professionals’ work in school-based prevention is to assure that EB guidelines are implemented in the schools to include a positive classroom and school environment for both students and teachers; appropriate instructional strategies such as interactive teaching methods; development and execution of policies to address such issues as psychoactive substance use that are clearly communicated to all affected by the policies; and, the preparation of students for transitions throughout their educational careers.


Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth – Prevention professionals work to help major employers to create safe and supportive work environments that include wellness programs and EB policies on issues such as psychoactive substance use, including referral for counseling and treatment, as needed; supportive reintegration into the workplace setting after treatment; and provide of supportive services for the workers and their families.


Goal 16: Peace and Strong Institutions, and Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals – Prevention professionals who are working on planning and implementing EB prevention services in the community support these goals as they are focused on strengthening community institutions and building sustained infrastructure for prevention. Their efforts are framed within a community structure whether defined by geographic area, cultural, ethnic or religious affiliation, or other characteristics. To impact the needs of all groups, prevention professionals can serve as the catalyst to bring representatives together as a community-based planning group to assess needs around behavior issues. They can then guide the group to determine if existing services are evidence-based (EB) and if not, how the services can be improved to become such. If there are no EB services available, they can help the group to identify new EB programs that will provide the assistance needed to have a community-wide impact.


So although prevention professionals may not have a direct role to play in altering the progression of climate change, they can look at the impact of climate change on their communities and to work toward strengthening the communities and their families to sustain physical and emotional health.


[1] https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/state-of-climate-2018-shows-accelerating-climate-change-impacts

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/ effects/default.htm

[3] https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-07-drug-overdose-deaths-pandemic.html; Daou, A.Z., Rached, M.G., & Geller J. (2021). COVID-19 and Suicide: A Deadly Association. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 1, 209(5), 311-319.

[4] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/climate-change/

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