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So what now? Why epidemiologic research is failing to meet the grand challenge of climate change, and what we can do about it

Wednesday 22 November 2017, 16.00-17.15
School of Earth and Environment seminar rooms 8.119
Prof Lea Berrang Ford (Priestley Chair, Climate and Health)
Priestley Centre/SRI joint seminar


The global climate is changing and that humans will need to adapt. It is widely recognized and accepted that climate change impacts will manifest through existing social gradients in health. Despite this, research on climate and health has struggled to integrate consideration of social and climatic determinants of health, and their interactions. While qualitative concepts such as the vulnerability approach have theorized on how climatic and non-climatic factors interact, epidemiologic methods have not kept pace with the increasing theoretical and methodological challenges posed by climate change. In this presentation I will discuss my research and experiences working with remote Indigenous communities in Peru, Uganda, and the Canadian Arctic in the field of climate and health research. In doing so, I will review some of the conceptual and methodological grand challenges for public health and climate change research. I will argue for a paradigmatic shift in our thinking and methods in epidemiology, and in particular our preoccupation with precision and the individual as a unit of analysis, over-reliance on traditional hierarchies of evidence, quest for climate causality, disengagement with theory, and other methodological ruminations. I will share some of my thoughts on research gaps and opportunities for public health and epidemiology.


Lea Berrang Ford  is a Professor and Research Chair in Climate and Health in the Priestley International Centre for Climate at Leeds University and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Scholar. She is a former Canada Research Chair and Trottier Fellow in Science and Public Policy. Her research focuses on the nexus of climate change and health, particularly infectious diseases, and novel metrics for tracking adaptation to climate change. Dr. Berrang Ford draws on her background in epidemiology and geography to develop novel approaches to answering grand challenges in environmental health, typically combining both qualitative and quantitative methods. Her epidemiologic research has predominantly been based in Uganda, with a focus on social and environmental determinants of vectorborne and zoonotic disease, and spatial analysis of infectious disease spread. She is a co-founder of TRAC3: Tracking Adaptation to Climate Change Consortium, and co-leads the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change project in the Canadian north, the Peruvian Amazon, and southwestern Uganda. She is the co-editor of the book “Adaptation in Developed Nations: from Theory to Practice,” a lead author on the forthcoming UNEP-DTU Adaptation Gap Report (Assessing Global Adaptation Progress), and her research on climate change adaptation is widely cited in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report (WGII, 2014). She has been an expert advisor on climate change and health for the Auditor General of Canada and the United States Centres for Disease Control.