Why climate change matters for food systems and public health

Scientists state that climate change will be the number one health concern of the 21st century – in part due to its effects on the food system. On May 4th, 2016 a dynamic panel gathered to discuss the impact of climate change on food systems and the health of individuals and communities. The Rhode Island Food Policy Council and Providence Public Library co-sponsored the event.

IMG_3729Fred Presley, the town manager of West Warwick, noted the changes in weather patterns and municipal needs he has seen due to climate change. He highlighted that city planning must be proactive to account for climate change. He explained how West Warwick is preparing for climate change by installing wind turbines to provide clean energy, preparing for flooding and snowfall, and incorporating climate change preparedness in the city’s comprehensive plan.

Chris Brown is a fisherman and head of the RI Commercial Fisherman’s Association. He described changes he has seen in the field of fishing: fish that he had never seen this far north are now common here in Rhode Island. He noted that we need to fish responsibly and sustainably. He encouraged people to support eating under appreciated fish to support a healthy aquatic ecosystem.

Adeline Newbold spoke of her experience working with West Elmwood Housing, where she helps enable immigrants and refugees to grow local and culturally appropriate foods. She underscored the importance of working with communities to support local agriculture, including through shared greenhouses and other infrastructure, to create sustainable models for food production.

Betsy Stubblefield Loucks, from the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, described the importance of green housing to save energy and help the grid, maintain comfort, and promote the health of people. She noted that we are at a critical moment now to support green energy and the important health implications of green energy.

John Stoddard, from Healthcare without Harm, described the ways in which agriculture production promotes climate change, how climate change can negatively affect food safety, and how changes in diet— including decreasing consumption of beef and cheese, could mitigate the effect of climate change. He described his work getting health systems to purchase less meat and reduce food waste as a way to address climate change.

While climate change, food systems, and health are large topics, the panelists underscored the importance of talking about and engaging in these issues. The speakers noted that we, as consumers and Rhode Island residents, can support practices that decrease the effects of climate change, including by supporting local agriculture and underutilized fish, as well as supporting policies that support clean energy and climate change mitigation.

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