Climate change was front and center at Johns Hopkins University recently in two separate but related happenings that have the potential for significant impact.
The Alliance for a Healthier World held a Primary Air Care (PAC) symposium in late April that brought together experts on hazardous air pollution and sustainable energy systems to discuss interventions for outdoor air pollution in low and middle-income countries.
Organized by Dr. Peter Winch, a professor in the International Health department and the Alliance’s Healthy Environments theme lead, topics included agriculture and food systems, household air pollution, health impacts in vulnerable groups, and governance and policy.
During the symposium, faculty members from the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and the School of Advanced International Studies discussed the need to forge connections between different academic programs at Hopkins to foster research on sustainability and air pollution. One solution proposed was the creation of an interdisciplinary course on using data to analyze and solve problems related to energy, climate, and air.
Panelists described policy options such as vehicle rationing and Air Quality Management Districts as well as guidelines for effective policy change. The panel ended with a discussion of science for environmental justice, the process of incorporating rigorous science into movements for healthy environments, and safe living and working conditions. (Links to PAC’s presentations, video, and more are available here.)
Chris Heaney, a faculty member in the departments of Environmental Health and Engineering, Epidemiology, and International Health at Bloomberg, explained that JHU has already been engaging in these practices. He mentioned partnerships between the university and the Baltimore community to research crude oil train transport patterns and estimate costs of industrial activities.
Winch said that he hopes events like the PAC symposium will inform new areas of research in the future.
“Faculty are often pursuing research that is possible for them but might not be the most important research,” he said. “Both on air pollution and on sustainability more generally, I want to see us get more engaged in the research that we collectively decide is most important, that would really make a difference.”
Separately, JHU President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar announced in late April that, along with signing a new 15-year agreement to get two thirds of the university’s electricity from solar power, they are launching a new Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC). Winch will co-chair the council.
“The SLC is charged with providing advice and recommendations to the provost on policies, programs, and other initiatives that will build a greater role for Johns Hopkins in teaching, research, and leadership on environmental sustainability,” Daniels said in making the announcement. “It is also tasked with amplifying Johns Hopkins’ research and practice around environmental sustainability.”
Winch said that the SLC will consist of academic, research and operations subcommittees, which will function as forums to collect and disseminate information, and that participants and priorities from the PAC symposium will inform the future activities of the SLC.
“In this PAC symposium there were a lot of comments on academic programs and missed opportunities and how we could be working together better,” Winch said. “Once the academic subcommittee of the SLC is formed, I will share those thoughts with them.”
Winch said that collaboration across the University's nine schools is one of the focus areas of the SLC as well.
“Students are asking for more connections,” he said. “They don’t have much opportunity to interact with students from other schools, and they think solutions are going to come from interacting with students from multiple disciplines.”
According to Winch, one of the priorities for the SLC will be using the university’s influence to enhance the sustainability of other local, national, and global institutions.
“We’re influential in Maryland and in the United States and globally,” he said. “So if, for example, we figure out a way for the hospitals within the Hopkins health system to become more sustainable, that will already in itself be a big contribution, but also it could be a model for other hospitals.”
Another priority is exploring the intersection between diversity and sustainability, particularly because minorities are often hit hardest by environmental problems.
“To promote diversity and sustainability, we need to listen to the voices of people who’ve been excluded,” Winch said. “You aren’t going to make progress on diversity if you only have the most powerful people around the table, and the same goes for environmental sustainability.”
Winch said that while the SLC would act as a forum for discussion, organizations like the Alliance and the SAIS Institute For Sustainable Energy Policy would remain responsible for researching and implementing solutions. In terms of specific measures to improve air quality that the SLC could help implement, Winch discussed his vision of a clearinghouse or website listing possible interventions to reduce air pollution.
“We want people to be taking action,” he said. “And one reason they aren’t taking action is they aren’t sure what are the actions that they can take that are effective and meaningful.”
Article by AHW Global Health Scholar Alyssa Wooden. Alyssa is majoring in Public Health Studies and minoring in Environmental Studies. Since 2017 she has served as the editor for the Johns Hopkins News-Letter and has worked with a local organization to prepare policy briefs for environmental impacts on child health.