For as much educating and advocating about climate change as ultrarunners Faith E. Briggs and Clare Gallagher have done, maybe the best way to teach the public about crucial environmental issues is to give everybody an unfortunate taste of what an ailing planet can do to civilization. Cue 2020. We’ve lived through a pandemic, massive unemployment, economic downturn, a strained health care system, murder hornets… the list goes on. Police brutality reignited the Black Lives Matter movement with increased vigor and attention to racial injustices around the world.
The connection may not always seem clear, but experts argue that you don’t have to dig too far to see how one thing leads to the other—and why many of our societal problems are tied to how we take care of our environment.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, if we want to prevent the next pandemic, climate action is imperative for a number of reasons. Decreasing deforestation, for example, would prevent animals like bats from seeking new habitats, which would help lower the spread of infectious diseases like coronavirus. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions decreases the risks of strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity—which disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and people of color (who also often have less access to health care). Improving air pollution keeps the population’s lungs healthier, which protects us from respiratory infections.
“If you look at why people in the U.S. are not healthy at baseline, it has to do with our diets, pollution, and climate change,” according to Harvard’s research at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment. “We have the opportunity here to recognize that prevention is by far the best approach to protecting health.”
Gallagher, who is the reigning Western States Endurance Run champion, has been a dedicated environmental activist for years, but it wasn’t until 2020 that she recognized how much she still had to learn and evolve.