Climate change has been a front-page staple for
months, afforded former Vice President Al Gore rock star
status, united and divided scientists worldwide and made
governments at the very least sit up and take notice.
Due to this convergence of factors and the magnitude
of climate change's implications on humankind, the
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health will place the subject front
and center for The Heat Is Rising, a full-day symposium to
be held on Friday, April 6, in the school's Sheldon Hall.
The event, subtitled "What you need to know about climate
change and public health," will bring together Johns
Hopkins researchers and nationally recognized experts on
Brian Schwartz, professor in the Division of
Occupational and Environmental Health and one of the
event's speakers and organizers, said that, without doubt,
the time is right for an event like this. The challenges
associated with climate change have existed for decades,
Schwartz said, but what is different now is that people are
He pointed to the success, both critical and
commercial, of the Oscar-winning documentary on global
warming, An Inconvenient Truth, and the findings of
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which
released a summary report in January that notably reported
that human activities are very likely (greater than 90
percent) causing global warming and that average
temperatures would probably rise between 3.2 and 7.2
degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. The IPCC was
formed by the World Meteorological Organization and the
United Nations Environment Program in 1988 to assess the
risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts
and options for adaptation and mitigation.
"The concerns have always been there, but there is an
increasing priority given to them now," Schwartz said.
"People in general seem willing to do something about it.
As political leadership is lagging, we hope that individual
and grass-roots efforts will take the lead and motivate
politicians to actions."
Climate change refers to any significant change in
measures of climate — such as temperature,
precipitation or wind — lasting for an extended
period, meaning decades or longer. Changes may result from
natural factors (such as variation in the sun's intensity),
natural processes within the climate system (changes in
ocean circulation) or human activities that change the
atmosphere's composition (by burning fossil fuels) or the
land's surface (deforestation).
Since late in the 18th century, scientists say, human
activities associated with the Industrial Revolution have
changed the composition of the atmosphere and influenced
the Earth's climate in significant and negative ways.
According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration and NASA data, the Earth's average surface
temperature has increased since 1900 by about 1.2 to 1.4
The symposium's main goal is to shine some light on
the relationships between climate change and health, and
the science supporting those relationships. Specific topics
to be addressed include how air pollution plus heat impacts
respiratory and cardiovascular health outcomes, the
escalation in the number of heat-stress cases and how
climate change affects the spread of vector-borne diseases,
such as malaria and Lyme disease.
The speakers will also discuss the potential
catastrophic events associated with climate change,
including the rising of sea levels, mass extinction of
animal species and regional climate change. Some scientists
predict that sea levels could rise by as much as 20 to 30
feet in the not-so-distant future, an occurrence that would
result in the displacement of millions of coastal
inhabitants, leading to social upheaval and the spread of
The symposium also will provide a range of solutions,
from individual behavior changes to global policies, to
stabilize the climate. The solutions will focus primarily
on how to decrease carbon emissions, which have been linked
to the "greenhouse effect."
"The challenges we face are really quite huge. One
change is not going to solve our problems," said Schwartz,
who co-authored a paper, published in the December 2006
edition of the journal Environmental Health
Perspectives, on the needed public health response to
global environmental change. "We need to take many steps at
the same time. Individuals need to do their part and
examine behaviors that result in large carbon emissions,
whether it be buying a hybrid car or purchasing
wind-generated energy from local utilities, and national
and local governments need to pursue policy changes, which
will likely require a new infrastructure for energy
production and supply."
The symposium is co-sponsored by the Johns Hopkins
Center for Public Health Preparedness, the Center for a Livable
Future and the National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences' Center in Urban Environmental Health.
Jim Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for
Space Studies since 1981, will deliver the keynote address.
Hansen, widely regarded as the government's top climate
change scientist, has spent the past two decades, sometimes
in the face of great resistance, trying to educate the
public about the consequences of unchecked global
The event will be broken into six sessions: "The
Basics of Climate Change," "Health Impacts of Climate
Change," "Infectious Disease Risk," "Adaptation vs.
Mitigation," "Solutions for Adaptation and Mitigation" and
a panel discussion moderated by WYPR founder and on-air
personality Marc Steiner. The panel discussion will tackle
such questions as, How can a community or region be better
prepared for climate change and climate-related
In addition to Hansen and Schwartz, the list of
presenters includes Jonathan Patz, former School of Public
Health faculty member, now with the University of
Wisconsin, Madison; Kent Bransford, president of Physicians
for Social Responsibility; and current School of Public
Health faculty members Cindy Parker and John Balbus. Balbus
is also the director of the Environmental Health Program
for Environmental Defense.
For more information and to register for the event, go
www.jhsph.edu/preparedness. The symposium is free for
Johns Hopkins students with valid ID; $15 for all