Climate change is often framed as a planetary health crisis, but it is just as much a human health crisis, described by the Lancet Countdown on Climate and Health as the greatest global health threat of the 21st century


Climate change is already causing adverse health effects, including increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather and heat, and serious threats to mental health. These health impacts disproportionately burden the most vulnerable, such as children, people with chronic illnesses, and the elderly, as well as communities already affected by environmental injustices.

In the District, this means that climate change most threatens residents, particularly those living East of the Anacostia River, who already face health inequities due to poor air quality from industrial facilities and congested vehicle corridors, as well as poor access to healthy food, green space, safe streets, and public transportation.

In addition to working on specific policies to address climate and health, the Redstone Center focuses on strategies to ensure that public health is emphasized in climate policy.

Climate and Health Institute (CHI)

Recognizing the profound impact of climate on public health, Redstone is a member of GW’s Climate & Health Institute, which seeks new solutions and opportunities to mitigate the harm of climate change on human health through cross-disciplinary research, training, and action.

CHI Subcommittee on GW’s Healthcare Sector

In 2018, the healthcare system was responsible for 8.5% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. If the U.S. healthcare sector alone were a country, it would rank 13th in the world for GHG emissions. To achieve our national and global climate goals, the healthcare sector must take immediate action to reduce its environmental footprint. Dr. Dietz co-leads a CHI Subcommittee on GW’s Healthcare Sector focused on implementing sustainability initiatives at GW-affiliated healthcare facilities and engaging the GW community in this effort.

As part of this work, CHI became a network organization of the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the Healthcare Sector, a partnership of leaders from across the health system committed to addressing the sector’s environmental impact while strengthening its sustainability and resilience.

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The Climate-Health Nexus

Despite the profound connection between climate and health, messaging about the climate crisis has often focused on planetary health and neglected to emphasize its implications for human health.

The Redstone Center has focused on raising awareness of the connection between climate and health and ensuring that it is considered as a major factor in climate policy. Most recently, Dr. Dietz has testified on several climate bills in the District of Columbia and their implications for the health of District residents.

The Global Syndemic

Dr. Dietz co-chaired a Lancet Commission report on The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change, which was published in January of 2019. The report demonstrates that the pandemics of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change represent the paramount challenge for humans, the environment, and our planet.

As described in the report, these interacting pandemics represent The Global Syndemic with common, underlying drivers in the food, transport, urban design, and land use systems. Strong and concerted efforts are required by multiple actors to implement doubly-duty and triple-duty actions to address the systems that drive The Global Syndemic. These synergistic actions will be essential to achieve planetary health, which the report defines as the health and wellbeing of humans and the natural environments they depend on.