Environment and human health are closely linked. A representative from The Nature Conservancy explains some of today’s urgent problems and promising solutions.
As it becomes increasingly clear that our health and wellness are inextricably tied with the planet’s, there's a clear need for deep thinking and new solutions at the intersection of environmental protection and human well-being. Our recent Future of Health initiative highlighted impacts, inequities, and innovations related to this urgent issue.
Healthline Media has teamed up with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to award $5,000 Healthline Stronger Scholarships to students committed to making a difference at the intersection of health and climate change. The Nature Conservancy is a global environmental nonprofit that works to protect lands and waters that all life depends on to allow nature and people to thrive. We talked with Carlos Fernández, Colorado State Director at TNC, for his insights on the following questions.
What are today’s most urgent environmental challenges in terms of their impact on health and wellness?
Climate change is the most urgent environmental challenge facing the planet. At The Nature Conservancy, we believe the health of people is inextricably linked with the health of the planet. Each year, between 3 and 4 million people around the world die as a result of air pollution and its lifelong impacts on human health, from asthma to heart disease to strokes. To achieve cleaner air, we must accelerate the transition to renewable energy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s why scientists and infrastructure experts at TNC support a cleaner and greener renewable energy build-out. We recently partnered with the Colorado Forum, a group of business and civic leaders, to create two guidebooks, Driving Change and Building Change, that engage and educate businesses on ways to reduce emissions.
In Louisville, Kentucky, TNC and local organizations partnered together on the Green Heart Project, the first controlled experiment testing the health effects of tree cover. We found that it reduces temperatures, filters pollution, and reduces stress, obesity, rates of asthma, and heart disease. Exciting and innovative climate solutions like these show that what is good for nature is good for people, too.
These are just a few examples. TNC is working across the globe with partners to tackle climate change and its impacts, including sea-level rise and coastal resilience, ongoing drought and wildfires, protecting rivers and rainforests, and much more. You can learn more about our work and other conservation and climate change initiatives at Nature.org.
How is climate change affecting individuals' mental health, and how can we find hope and healing?
From intensified natural disasters to climate- and eco-anxiety, climate change is drastically impacting individuals’ mental health. Climate change is driving increased drought and more severe storms, wildfires and heat stress, sea level rise, and so much more. People all over the world are seeing the effects.
Taking the time to connect with nature, sharing it with those you love, and finding ways to take action on behalf of nature are just some of the ways to find hope and healing. Whether it is a walk in the woods, pursuing a favorite outdoor activity, or going to your local park to play with your children at the playground, nature is beneficial for both mental and physical health.
While it can sometimes seem that there is too much out of our control, the most important thing each one of us can do is to act. Think about personal actions, such as reducing food waste and energy consumption, trying more vegetarian recipes, or switching to clean energy and electric vehicles. Simply talking about climate change to those around you makes a tremendous difference and inspires others.
How do you understand the relationship between conserving nature and improving human health for all?
Although lower-income and historically marginalized communities contribute least to greenhouse gas emissions, they are consistently the most vulnerable to extreme events amplified by climate change. We cannot achieve our conservation mission for a healthy and thriving planet without ensuring all people benefit from the clean air, water, food, and peace that nature provides.
For instance, as Colorado’s population becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, it is increasingly important that our approach to conservation evolves to better reflect the perspectives and needs of everyone in our state. That’s why TNC Colorado launched a comprehensive diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) initiative that builds on our past collaborative efforts.
From our efforts to build a more equitable, climate-resilient urban tree canopy for people in Denver, to protecting water supplies with Indigenous communities in Southwest Colorado, to expanding our partnerships and support for organizations uplifting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color’s voices across the state, the results that we strive for depend on strong partnerships with diverse stakeholders.
How do you support the next generation of climate leaders?
The future of the planet, and of conservation, relies on people who care about protecting the environment. We are working with partners to build connections for youth, especially those from underserved communities, to empower the next generation of climate leaders. Additionally, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado’s 13ers, a young professionals network of environmental leaders, elevates the next generation of climate leaders by hosting events to learn, support, and promote our work and mission.
We must continue to empower and support the next generation of climate leaders to ensure that they have the resources, knowledge, voice, and passion for momentous climate action. The Nature Conservancy is honored to team up with Healthline for the Healthline Stronger Scholarship, supporting and uplifting the voices of students who are committed to making a difference at the intersection of health and climate change.