Environmental Justice and Human Health

Human health is inseparable from environmental health. Our exposure to toxic environmental chemicals through air, water, food, and consumer products is contributing to a surge in chronic disease (cancer, asthma, diabetes, COPD, etc.), developmental delay, neurodegenerative disease, and infertility. Our climate emergency’s associated catastrophic events (hurricanes, wildfires, floods, famine, etc.) are driving massive human displacement as populations flee climate-fueled war, conflict, and environmental degradation. Existing health challenges and health care systems will need considerable investments of resources and attention in order to mitigate the impacts. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how the web of life connects human health to other species and global health, and the importance of systemic solutions.

Environmental threats to human health are not experienced equally among populations. Structural and institutional racism, and other economic and public policy choices underlie the fact that some communities suffer more and die earlier from environmental health harms. While health care professionals work to mitigate suffering of individuals, the cause and enduring solutions to these problems are systemic, and as such, require solutions that address the upstream influences on health at a society-wide level. Thus, research and policy decisions are needed that address the systemic roots of environmental threats to our health.

This series explores a range of environmental contributors to human health and disease through the lens of our most vulnerable populations, and seeks to identify and advocate for systemic solutions by health professionals and community members.

The series is co-organized by the UCSF EaRTH Center, UCSF Program for Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE), and San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and further supported by the UCSF Center for Climate Health and Equity and the Environmental and Climate Health Student Advisory Group. Series Co-Chairs include Annemarie Charlesworth, Patrice Sutton, Robert Gould, Nadia Gaber.

Browse more programs in Environmental Justice and Human Health: Creating Systemic Solutions.

Understanding and Conserving Planet Earth

In recognition of Earth Day, UC San Diego researchers gathered to discuss a range of perspectives on how the climate, human activities and other forces impact our natural world. Hear from UC San Diego scientists who are leading the way with their work on renewable materials that are paving the path to a sustainable future; building and maintaining natural reserves as living laboratories; how immersing oneself in nature motivates a life of conservation research via an “Earth Connection;” and tackling the impacts of rising CO2, temperature and drought on plants. Join us to hear fresh perspectives on understanding and conserving Planet Earth.

Watch A Deep Look: Earth Day 2021.

Drought in the West

Climate scientist Julie Kalansky discusses how drought in California and Nevada is a common occurrence, with the attendant water restrictions and threat of severe wildfires bringing the reality of climate change into sharp focus. Future climate projections for the region suggest a trend toward more extremes, including more severe and prolonged drought as well as exceptionally wet years. Learn about the science of drought and how the Scripps-based California Nevada Climate Applications (CNAP) program works to provide drought tracking and early warning in support of drought preparedness and resilience in the face of a changing climate.

Watch Research for Resilience on a Changing Planet – Drought in the West: Research and Scientific Tools for Coping with Climate Change.

Of Faith and Resilience

Commercial filmmaking often follows promising trends, whether consciously or not, and the result may be a spate of similarly themed movies appearing on the market at roughly the same time. For example, in the 1980s one such trend was the so-called “save the farm” films, in which Hollywood stars struggled valiantly to hold onto scenic family farms. Another short-lived but important trend was “border cinema” that dealt with tensions at the U.S.-Mexico border. When studio-funded these stories were told mostly from the American point of view; The Border (1982) with Jack Nicholson is emblematic of this approach.

Something of an outlier among border movies was Gregory Nava’s El Norte (1983) which, though not a box office hit, was a critical success and has proven to be immensely influential in the decades since its release. Nava tells the story of two siblings who flee Guatemala after the murders of their parents and journey to the north (el norte) along the length of Mexico. Like so many before and after them, Enrique and Rosa dream of finding a new home in the United States free of political violence and persecution. However, their faith and their resilience are tested at every step as challenges mount, leading to what must seem in hindsight an inevitable conclusion.

In interviews co-writer and director Gregory Nava traced the origins of El Norte to his experiences growing up in San Diego in a border family with relatives in Tijuana, Baja California. The young Nava crossed the border several times a week, often wondering who lived in all those cardboard shacks on the Mexican side:

“The border is unique—the only place in the world where an industrialized first-world nation shares the border with a third-world country…on one side are the Tijuana slums, on the other side—San Diego. It’s so graphic! This was the germ of the story.”

In his review Roger Ebert called El Norte “the Grapes of Wrath for our times,” and its impact is undiminished. The film is frequently shown and discussed in high school and college courses that touch on border issues, immigration, indigenous rights, and multiculturalism. In this program moderator Ross Melnick and guests Colin Gunckel and Mirasol Enríquez reflect on the genesis, production, reception, and legacy of the film in the context of both the “border cinema” of the 80s and newly emerging Chicanx filmmaking.

No matter how culturally insightful, no film can linger in the memory unless it speaks directly to audiences. El Norte is first and foremost a profoundly moving story, elevated above mere melodrama by its unblinking devotion to realism, its visual beauty, and the mesmerizing performances of the two leads, Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez and David Villalpando.

Watch Borders: El Norte.

A Life in Theatre: Ariane Mnouchkine

As Ariane Mnouchkine states in this rare and candid discussion, “We simply work better with love…. we work better by looking for a place of affection.” And as you will discover, her life-work, the Théâtre du Soleil, is clearly nothing less than that. Started with her fellow students at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in 1964, the theater has endured and remained firmly rooted in its founding ideals as a collective, creating social and political critiques of local and world cultures. Working beyond the bounds of the classic proscenium in found spaces like barns and gymnasiums, the theater has reflected physically its philosophical foundations, principles which you will find Ariane shares so frankly with Allan Havis, UC San Diego Professor of Theater and Dance and visiting scholar Robert Marx.

Watch Ariane Mnouchkine – 2019 Kyoto Laureate in Arts and Philosophy .