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Environmental Factor, July 2013

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Keynote address urges Green Champion winners to raise awareness

By Pamela Kidron

John Balbus, M.D.

Balbus is an advocate for addressing the public health impact of climate change. (Photo courtesy of Ernie Branson)

Calling global climate change one of the greatest challenges of this generation, NIEHS Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D., highlighted the important role of the NIH and NIEHS in meeting that challenge, during a keynote speech June 20 at the 2013 HHS Green Champion Award ceremony on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

The Green Champion Award recognizes U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) employees for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water consumption, and pollution.

"Today our Green Champions are truly champions, because they are helping us take on this great challenge of our lifetime — the related challenges of sustainability and climate change resilience," said Balbus. "Innovations in reducing energy and water consumption, like those we honor today, do not merely produce environmental benefits and lower costs. These sustainability measures are all public health interventions."

Addressing climate change

NIH and NIEHS have had a longstanding leadership role in addressing health implications of climate change, Balbus said. NIEHS scientists, for example, have helped lead efforts to coordinate research on the human health effects of climate change across the US government and internationally. NIEHS currently is heading an NIH pilot grant program on the health implications of climate change, including waterborne diarrheal diseases and heat-related deaths.

Helping the public understand

Balbus concluded by urging the crowd to take on three challenges.

First, was the need to take sustainability and climate resilience to the next level in order to fully meet the challenges that lie ahead. The second was to do so in a way that recognized economic constraints.

"I encourage us all to continue to be creative and look for transformative innovation wherever we can," said Balbus, “but we also need to be creative in figuring out how to make the transformations with minimal costs or cost savings.”

Lastly, Balbus said that many still do not understand how climate change is tied to the nation's health. He called on those in the room to help the general public and their own colleagues understand these linkages. In closing, he noted, “We will need many more hands on the oars to fully succeed.”

(Pamela Kidron is a contract writer with the NIEHS office in Bethesda, Md.)

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