by Stephanie Johannes
A record-breaking winter storm system is bringing freezing rain and snow to much of the US, leaving millions of people without power, and causing at least 20 deaths, including 3 in North Carolina after a tornado hit Brunswick County. Duke Energy is warning that 1 million people may lose power for several days this week during freezing weather in the Carolinas. This is particularly concerning for our most vulnerable residents, including young children, the elderly, people who use electricity-powered home medical equipment like dialysis or breathing machines, and lower-income people lacking adequate housing.
Though we typically associate climate change with warming temperatures, climate change also drives more intense winter storms due to increased moisture in the air, heavier precipitation, and rapid arctic warming that pushes colder air south. The storms have also exposed how vulnerable our energy grid is to climate change. The extreme winter storm events of the past week once again drive home how climate change threatens our basic health and safety. To keep North Carolina communities thriving, we urgently need to take action to slow climate change, while also preparing our state for the increase in heat waves, hurricanes, and extreme winter storms we can expect to see. That is why this year’s annual NC BREATHE Conference will be focused on the theme of health, equity, and the climate crisis in North Carolina.
The NC BREATHE Conference will be held virtually on the afternoons of April 6th and 7th. It will bring together community groups, policymakers, medical and health professionals, academics, students, and environmental advocates from across North Carolina. To learn more about the conference and register, please go to the conference website: https://cleanaircarolina.org/2021-nc-breathe/.
Day 1: How climate change impacts health and environmental justice
William Barber III, J.D., who is the Climate Justice Initiative Manager for the Climate Reality Project and also serves on the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board in the NC Department of Environmental Quality, will deliver the opening keynote to set the tone for the conference. Sessions on the first day will focus on sharing the latest research on the health impacts of climate change featuring experts from across the state. Topics will include extreme heat, changes in vector-borne disease, air quality and respiratory disease, and implications for healthcare delivery. Health equity and environmental justice impacts on communities will be woven throughout the talks.
Day 2: Mitigating climate change and adapting to a changing climate
After an opening from NC State Senator DeAndrea Salvador, the second day of NC BREATHE will jump right into solutions – highlighting innovative strategies to reduce climate change and to increase the resilience of our communities and health systems to climate impacts. Focusing on mitigation, Ramé Hemstreet, Chief Sustainable Resources Officer at Kaiser Permanente will discuss how a renewable microgrid helped the health system giant become the first in the US to achieve carbon neutrality. Dr. Jennifer Runkle of the NC Institute for Climate Studies will focus on adaptation, sharing her recent work on the mental health impacts of Hurricane Florence and using a low-cost text-based crisis line to provide mental health support. And Jocelyn Painter of NCSU and Beth Roach, Councilwoman of the Nottaway Tribe, will discuss building capacity for climate resilience in Albemarle-Pamlico Region Tribal communities. The breakout sessions will be interactive, with many opportunities for participant engagement.
Call for Poster Abstracts!
The conference will also host a student poster session, and the top three abstracts will be selected for oral presentations, to elevate the innovative research being done by young investigators. Submit your research abstract on the conference website.