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U. holds symposium to collaborate with 3 research institutions in addressing climate change

The Regional Symposium on Climate Change, Planetary and Human Health will work to understand how institutions can collaborate with each other to combat climate change. – Photo by Leigh Lustig

In order to address the effects of climate change on local communities, Rutgers recently teamed up with three other New Jersey universities to hold the Regional Symposium on Climate Change, Planetary and Human Health on climate change and its link to public health.

The event brought together experts from four different institutions, including Rutgers, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Princeton University and Stevens Institute of Technology.

The program’s objective was to learn how the different universities engage with solving climate change, which 63 percent of Americans have said affects their local community, through their research and innovation, according to the program’s website.

The symposium aimed to identify areas where the four institutions could collaborate for the betterment of New Jersey and the world regarding the mitigation of the effects of climate change.

Marjorie Kaplan, an assistant director at the Rutgers Climate Institute, said the overarching goal of the event was to bring researchers from the state's four leading research universities and create a space where collaboration and the exchanging of ideas were encouraged.

"Climate change touches every facet of the environment and society, and it can only be understood and addressed through multi-disciplinary approaches," Kaplan said. "Bringing the scientific community from several New Jersey institutions together is an opportunity for collaboration to address both regional issues that are replicable beyond New Jersey."

The symposium was divided into several parts, with sections focused on planetary health, food safety and security, the strength of modern health systems and climate engineering and technology. Within each section, experts in their fields provided their insights into how universities could work together in these areas to fight climate change. 

Experts in these fields from each university were able to give presentations on these varying topics, such as "Leveraging Food Systems to Improve the Health of the People and the Planet" and "Healthcare's Role in Reducing Harm from Climate Change."

"To foster collaboration, the conference was set up so that each session was organized by co-chairs from different universities,” Kaplan said. “I had the pleasure to co-chair the session on the state of climate science with my colleague, Dr. Omowunmi Sadik, distinguished professor and chair in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at NJIT."

Brian Strom, the chancellor at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, provided the opening remarks at the conference. He said that the public is increasingly weary of larger and more frequent natural disasters but overlooks the day-to-day challenges of climate change.

"While these large-scale events certainly have detrimental effects on our society, it is extreme heat, poor air and water quality, flooding, contaminated water-related infections, access to health care and other everyday effects of climate change that have the biggest impact on our health," he said.

Strom also said the environmental issues that come with climate change can cause human illnesses to worsen, especially for vulnerable populations, including the elderly, children and underserved communities.

He said that while it is vital that the conference observe the connections between climate change and human health, the health care industry also has an impact on climate change that should not be underestimated.

"Emissions from health care make up nearly 5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, demonstrating that our health care systems need to contribute to climate change mitigation through the implementation of sustainable practices," Strom said. 

Both Strom and Kaplan said the ultimate goal of the conference was to promote collaboration between the four institutions and their researchers to go forward with minimizing the effects of an issue that is important to Americans. 

"I know that I have already followed up on several connections made that day and suspect many of my colleagues have as well," Kaplan said.

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