ELP Co-Hosts Climate Change and Public Health Panel

ELP continued its semester-long series on emerging climate justice and resiliency issues with a March 4 panel titled “Climate Change and Public Health.” The event also marked the start of an extended collaboration between ELP and John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) students on climate issues.

ELP Director David Forman noted that “multi-disciplinary approaches to complex problems like the climate crisis are essential, so we are grateful to our medical and law school students for embarking on this journey and welcome opportunities to engage in similar discussions with other departments at the University of Hawai‘i.”

The panel featured several members of the local medical community with a background in climate change: Dr. Lee Buencosenjo-Lum, JABSOM Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Dr. Neal Palafox, Alice C. Beams Endowed Professor of Cancer Research at JABSOM; and Dr. Kealoha Fox, a JABSOM Adjunct Assistant Professor and a Native Hawaiian Liaison at AlohaCare, a non-profit health plan in Hawaiʻi. Jeffrey Hayashi and Anson Lee, co-vice presidents of the first-year medical school class, served as moderators.

Hayashi and Lee led a roundtable discussion on a variety of topics, including climate change’s threat to public health, its disparate impact on the health and well-being of Indigenous communities, the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic within the climate context, and the potential for the environmental law and public health communities to address these concerns collaboratively in the future.

According to Dr. Fox, young professionals at JABSOM and the William S. Richardson School of Law “have the opportunity to change the narrative of climate change impacts in Hawai‘i,” from amending laws to ensure that there are places reserved for Native Hawaiian food systems to attracting new investments in public health.

This type of change is crucial, Dr. Buencosenjo-Lum noted, as many government systems are “archaic.” In addition, Dr. Palafox emphasized that the well-being of vulnerable populations needs to be prioritized for climate advocacy to be truly effective.

“Environmental climate change must be addressed in a complex model. Every model should always differentiate equality versus equity,” he said, noting that “environmental laws can be weaponized to benefit one population, but at the same time harm others.”