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Introduction to the Colloquium on Climate and Health: A Challenge to Interdisciplinarity. L. O. Mearns NCAR Colloquium on Climate and Health NCAR, Boulder, CO July 17, 2006. Evolution of the Colloquium.

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introduction to the colloquium on climate and health a challenge to interdisciplinarity

Introduction to the Colloquium on Climate and Health: A Challenge to Interdisciplinarity

L. O. Mearns


Colloquium on Climate and Health

NCAR, Boulder, CO

July 17, 2006

evolution of the colloquium
Evolution of the Colloquium
  • In the summer of 1998 Linda lends Jonathan her car in Snowmass, Colorado at an EMF workshop
  • Jonathan repays loan with a fabulous dinner atKrabloonik – combination dog sledding operation and restaurant (very interdisciplinary establishment!)
  • They discuss good wines

(and climate and health) over dinner

  • The rest is history!
  • Reflects importance of diverse

activities for formulating interdisciplinary programs

first colloquium
First Colloquium

Held in summer 2004 – a broad overview of health-climate topics (heat waves, air pollution, vector-borne disease).

second colloquium focus on vector born disease
Second Colloquium Focus on Vector-born Disease

Organizing Committee:

  • Kris Ebi, Exponent Consulting
  • Sandy Johnson, U. Denver
  • Linda Mearns, NCAR
  • Johnathan Patz, U. Wisconsin
evolution of the colloquium1
Evolution of the Colloquium

Part of the NCAR Weather and Climate Impacts Assessment Science Program


  • Developed in 2001-2002
  • Program Development set up to promote more integrated research at NCAR
weather and climate impact assessment science program
Weather and Climate Impact Assessment Science Program

Composed of three elements:

Climate and Health Program Development

  • Characterizing Uncertainty in Impact Assessment Science

Extreme Weather and Climate Events

climate health component
Climate/Health Component
  • Climate/health issues integrate well with other two parts of the Program.
  • Both temperature and precipitation extremes are important contributors to problems in human health
  • Many important issues of uncertainty in attribution of climate as a cause of health problems (e.g., vector-borne disease)


Summer 2003 heat wave in Europe

anomalously high precipitation
Anomalously High Precipitation
  • High June Precipitation and West Nile Virus in Colorado (2004)
  • ‘West Nile is in county skeeters’ Boulder Daily Camera, July 13, 2006

High precipitation and warm weather

why climate and health
Why Climate and Health ?

Human Health is one of the less well-developed impacts areas

Impacts area to which people are very sensitive (in risk analysis parlance, has a high dread factor).

why climate and health1
Why Climate and Health ?

A highly complex impact area that requires a very high level of interdisciplinary from the very start (climate,weather, biology, public health, economics, policy)

Evidence that climate and weather information has not always been properlyintegrated into studies.

Need for Health/Climate/Environment Programs

Specific recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences Report of the Committee on Climate, Ecosystems, Infectious Disease, and Human Health, 2001.

Need for Health/Climate/Environment Programs

Specific Recommendations from

the CEIDH Report

  • Research on the linkages between climate and infectious diseases must be strengthened.
  • Research on climate and infectious diseases requires interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Recommends educational programs for health workers that explore environmental and socio-economic factors.
Need for Health/Climate/Environment Programs

Inclusion of new section on environmental (including climate) factors in the Institute ofMedicineReport on Microbial Threats to Health, 2003.

Climate/Health Program

Interdisciplinary Community Integrated Approach



Data Rescue

and Archive



  • Hydrology
  • Oceanography
  • Climatology
  • Ecology
  • Entomology
  • Microbiology
  • Mamology









  • Public Health
  • Demography
  • Economics
  • Sociology




Analytical Studies

Long Term Goal: Full Climate/Health Program

Emphasizing Education

  • Program Elements:
  • Establishment of a formal post-doctoral program at NCAR for health researchers, and climatologists interested in health problems
  • Formal scholarly exchanges between NCAR and others institutions, such as U. Michigan, U. Wisconsin, the Center for Disease Control (e.g., summer visits at NCAR)..
  • Visitor program for policy makers and public health workers to become more informed regarding climate and human health interactions.
Short Term Goal:

or what we can afford right now

Bi-annual Educational Colloquium

on Climate and Human Health

progression of climate and health in the reports of the ipcc
Progression of Climate and Health in the Reports of the IPCC

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – established by WMO and UNEP - to assess the scientific and socio-economic information on climate change

development of climate and health in the reports of the ipcc
Development of Climate and Health in the Reports of the IPCC
  • First, 1990 – no chapter on subject – treatment of heat stress, vague statements on infectious disease
  • Second,1995 – separate chapter – inclusion of direct and indirect effects; emphasized role of socioeconomic factors
  • Third, 2001 – explicitly addresses methodological difficulties in attribution of causation to climate when many factors present
  • Fourth, 2007 -- more focus on current impacts – very difficult attribution problem
impediments to interdisciplinarity
Impediments to Interdisciplinarity
  • Accusations of superficiality by disciplinarians
  • Inhospitable institutional structures
  • Difficulties in communicating across disciplines (‘death by acronym’)
  • Inadequate or non-existent reward systems
  • Inadequate or hostile funding mechanisms
status in climate and health
Status in Climate and Health
  • Interdisciplinary journals exist (e.g Global Environmental Change and Health – which became Ecohealth: Conservation Medicine, Human Health, and Sustainable Ecology)
status in climate and health 2
Status in Climate and Health 2
  • Interdisciplinary funding programs (e.g., NOAA, NASA).
  • Interdisciplinary programs at Universities (U. Michigan, U. Wisconsin, Columbia).
  • But, reward systems still inadequate.
  • Federal agency cooperation needs further development.
what you need to know and do
What you need to know and do
  • You do not need to become an expert in three or more different fields.
  • But, you do need to understand basic issues in fields adjacent to your focus – read a great deal now while you have time!
  • Work closely and actively with experts in the adjacent fields.
  • Become part of and help build the interdisciplinary community
goals of the colloquium
Goals of the Colloquium
  • Provide overviews of relevant fields
  • Gain further appreciation for the complexity of interactions
  • Gain more familiarity with social vulnerability perspective
  • Provide hands-on tutorials with tools for use in climate-health research
  • Promote interaction across disciplines