A new Penn State initiative will focus on climate change and how extreme weather events impact human health, especially in underserved populations across the globe.
The Social Science Research Institute’s (SSRI) Climate, Society and Health Initiative aims to help research move beyond documentation of climate events and their association with health threats to strategies that support individual and community resilience.
“Penn State has an extraordinary depth and breadth in climate science research and strong leadership from the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE) through the new IEE Climate Consortium,” said SSRI Director Deborah Ehrenthal. “The new SSRI initiative will complement these efforts by engaging faculty researchers in the social and behavioral sciences who bring deep interdisciplinary experience needed for this new research area.”
According to Virginia Silvis, a postdoctoral scholar in the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute working on climate change and community resilience, the initiative is especially important because the effects of climate change are likely to disproportionately impact the health of disadvantaged populations around the world.
“The impact of climate change on people and their lives is one of the most urgent challenges we face today,” Silvis said. “It will take the perspective of researchers from both the social and behavioral sciences and climate science communities working together and speaking the same language.”
Halie Kampman, a postdoctoral scholar in geography, also emphasized how the new initiative’s focus on health needs will take the collaborative efforts of researchers from many fields.
“The multi-year project will first focus on these interdisciplinary collaborations by forming research teams with the support of seed funding, which will then enable researchers to obtain external funding to support sustainability,” Kampman said.
Other goals of the project include creating advisory teams to engage with other Penn State research institutes, colleges, and campuses, along with communities and agencies in Pennsylvania. Researchers can also apply for support on early work from the SSRI seed grant program.
Ehrenthal pointed to SSRI’s Population Research Institute (PRI) as an example of work underway. PRI was recently awarded supplemental funding from the Eunice Kenney Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Development to build a new research focus on population perspectives on climate change and health.
“The funding will support new seed grants and training to researchers who are interested in moving their research into the climate and health space,” said PRI director Jenny Van Hook.
To further kick-start the new initiative, SSRI recently hosted a round table featuring over 30 Penn State faculty discussing the intersection of climate, society and health through social and behavioral science research. Additionally, last month Penn State Sustainability hosted a Sustainable Environment and Health Showcase that featured presentations on the theme “Moments of Change: Creating a Livable Planet.”
“This new research emphasis is well-aligned with the SSRI mission and focus on the social and environmental determinants of health and the causes and consequences of inequality,” Ehrenthal said.
Other Penn State research leaders from various colleges who have been involved in the early stages of the initiative include Janet Swim, professor of psychology; Brian King, professor and department head of geography; Guangqing Chi, professor of rural sociology and demography and director of SSRI’s Computational and Spatial Analysis Core (CSA); and Jenny Van Hook, professor of sociology and demography and director of SSRI’s Population Research Institute.