Population Health

May 10, 2023

Initiative announces the award of 12 climate change planning grants

UW researcher in the field completing a glacial surveyThe Population Health Initiative announced today the award of a dozen planning grants to University of Washington researchers to support the launch of new climate-focused collaborations. Each of the $10,000 awards will support the funded teams to complete their planning projects during summer quarter 2023, which will be followed by a special autumn 2023 funding call for climate change-related Population Health Initiative pilot grants.

“The level of interest in these awards from disciplines across our three campuses was inspiring,” shared Ali H. Mokdad, the UW’s chief strategy officer for population health and professor of health metrics sciences. “The funded projects seek to lay the groundwork to take on some of the most pressing climate change challenges that we face, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of their foundational work.”

Several of the funded projects arose from a Population Health Initiative and EarthLab co-hosted event, “Fostering Climate Change Connections.” This event, which took place in April 2023, was intended to help facilitate the development of new interdisciplinary collaborations between UW researchers. The Initiative and EarthLab will co-host another of these events in October 2023.

Details regarding the 12 funded projects, project teams and focus of each teams’ project can be found in the following tabs.

The Climate Change Social Media Movement: Exploring Impacts on Youth Mental Health

McKenna Parnes, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Jennifer Atkinson, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (UW Bothell)

Project abstract
Climate change is a global crisis and an issue of intergenerational injustice, placing disproportionate and unjust harm on young people and future generations (Balvin & Christie, 2020; Swim et al., 2022). Consequentially, young people are experiencing significant climate-related psychological distress (Thompson, 2021). Climate change also exacerbates existing inequalities, resulting in worse mental health burden on youth who face greater social and environmental vulnerabilities (e.g., socioeconomically disadvantaged youth, Black, Indigenous, Youth of color [BIYOC]) (Hayes et al., 2018).

Young people are increasingly engaging with climate change issues through social media (Parry et al., 2022). Unfortunately, social media can have emotional consequences (Parry et al., 2022), exposing youth to a higher volume of information about the climate crisis without strategies for managing distress. Recent increases in racial discrimination via social media place BIYOC at greater risk for mental health difficulties (Tao & Fisher, 2022). We propose to conduct focus groups with young people (n = 20) to understand their lived experiences of engaging with the climate crisis on social media. Questions will explore challenges, benefits, and mental health impacts of engaging with climate change content on social media.

Climate Justice, Decolonization, and Abolition

Jed Murr, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (UW Bothell)
Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud, Drama
Jennifer Atkinson, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (UW Bothell)
Georgia Roberts, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (UW Bothell)
Cleo Wölfle Hazard, Marine and Environmental Affairs
José Alaniz, Slavic Languages & Literatures

Project abstract
The planning grant will allow the nascent Racial Capitalism, Climate Coloniality, and Abolition Working Group to work toward interconnected aims: 1. To serve UW students, faculty, and staff by developing a capacious in-person and online event series—tentatively titled “Climate Justice, Decolonization, and Abolition”—and a “conversation commons” organically linked to courses across the natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts and humanities in 2023-24 and 2024-25. 2. To gather differently positioned thinkers—from climate scientists and humanities scholars to filmmakers, poets, theorists, dancers, and abolitionist geographers—who engage our keywords in distinct but resonant fashions. 3. To contribute to collective conversations, research, and movements for climate justice, decolonization, and abolition in a period of dire urgency, danger, and possibility.

In summer 2023, we will establish a flexible, sustainable framework for our series and for the multi-scale modes of engagement available to faculty, students, and collaborators. Our layered working group model includes a core group of 8-15 faculty responsible for the design, funding, promotion, and execution of the series. A wider circle of faculty and community partners will weave the event series into their courses or programming and engage with the core group and our speakers throughout the series.

Linking Climate Adaptation and Public Health Outcomes in Yavatmal, Maharashtra

Sameer H. Shah, Environmental and Forest Sciences
Celina Balderas Guzmán, Landscape Architecture
Pronoy Rai, Portland State University

Project abstract
This proposal collects primary interview data with landed and landless agriculturalists in Yavatmal district in Maharashtra state in India to identify emerging public health risks associated with climate adaptation activities. In Yavatmal, agricultural livelihoods are impacted by heat stress and precipitation variability. To-date, climate adaptation in agricultural contexts is commonly viewed as bounded to single decision-makers, without serious consideration as to how adaptive decision-making is networked or linked in ways that shape public health outcomes. For example, efficient irrigation practices or changes in crop variants may affect agricultural labor prospects for landless peoples, shaping their adaptive decision-making, and the public health risks they encounter.

Approximately 30 interviews will be conducted across the landholding spectrum (large landowning farmers to landless agricultural laborers) to i) identify current livelihood adaptation strategies; ii) understand linkages between adaptive decision-making; and iii) assess the public health outcomes associated with such decisions. This preliminary data will establish a baseline for developing more specific research questions to be explored in later funding calls. Ultimately, we expect to develop recommendations for regional and international climate policy that stress how the interrelationships embedded in climate adaptation decision-making affect public health outcomes.

Destructive Gold Mining in the Amazon: Identifying and Communicating the Climate, Human, and Ecological Costs

Rebecca Neumann, Civil & Environmental Engineering
Alex Turner, Atmospheric Sciences
Robin Ruhm, Civil & Environmental Engineering
Alejandro Lopera-Toro, Andes Amazon Fund
Elena Chaboteaux, Andes Amazon Fund
Monika Gornikiewicz, independent anthropologist

Project abstract
The past three decades have seen a growth of unregulated alluvial gold mining in the Amazon that involves slash-and-burn land-clearing, sediment extraction, and the use of mercury to amalgamate gold flecks from fine sediment. The gold is isolated by heating the amalgam and vaporizing mercury into the atmosphere, which is then deposited in the surrounding landscape. Mercury is a neurotoxin known to affect human health, animal behavior, and photosynthetic and transpiration by vegetation.

We hypothesize that atmospheric deposition of mercury across the landscape reduces forest productivity with implications for global carbon budgets and climate change and for local Indigenous livelihoods. This hypothesis, if correct, indicates that gold mining affects ecosystems and people far beyond the location where gold is extracted. If funded, Dr. Neumann and PhD. student Robin Ruhm will travel to Peru this summer to conduct fieldwork alongside the Peruvian collaborators to corroborate mercury-induced reductions in gross primary productivity identified by satellite imagery. Dr. Turner will lead the satellite imagery work. While in Peru, the project team will discuss strategies for advancing the project, identify potential funding opportunities, and meet with Indigenous community members to understand their research priorities and how they want to engage with the project.

Sustainable materials for structural applications

Eleftheria Roumeli, Materials Science & Engineering
Tomás Méndez Echenagucia, Architecture
Kate Simonen, Architecture

Project abstract
Using this planning grant, we aim to (1) conduct preliminary collaborative experiments, (2) identify relevant calls for funding, and (3) prepare our first joint proposal on sustainable materials for applications in building structures.

First, we will identify an architectural application, such as funicular flooring designed by the Méndez Echenagucia lab for reduced carbon emissions. We will fabricate a preliminary set of green cements (biomass-containing cement formulations) and test their mechanical properties in the Roumeli lab. The methods for estimating the environmental impacts of the novel material will be defined (Simonen lab). This will be the first step in the collaboration between all three PIs. The first results of the materials fabrication, mechanical testing, modeling and components of LCA will serve as a foundation for our first joint proposal.

Our multidisciplinary approach on sustainable structural materials will bridge our individual expertise and build a technically strong and innovative foundation to make meaningful contributions in the field of sustainable structures. Our proposed team’s lack of prior collaboration and joint work will ensure that we bring fresh perspectives and ideas to the table, enabling us to achieve impactful results. We envision this to be the first attempt in a long-lived collaborative effort.

Native Plant Production for Climate Adaptation in the Eastern Mediterranean

Danya Al-Saleh, Jackson School of International Studies
Jonathan Bakker, Environmental and Forest Sciences
Omar Tesdell, Birzeit University

Project abstract
Our key activities will build the foundations for a sustainable long-term collaboration between the UW and Birzeit University. A lack of funding limits research on climate change and on native plant propagation in Palestine, and restrictions on travel hinders the development of international research collaborations. The planning grant will support development of larger grant proposals to support climate adaptation research on native plant propagation and conservation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Key activities proposed during the Summer 2023 Quarter:

  1. Conduct a literature review of climate change adaptation literature and plant propagation literature in the Eastern Mediterranean.
  2. Identify a target journal and complete a brief perspectives article providing background, opportunities, and challenges for research in this area.
  3. Complete a draft grant proposal to fund urgent climate change and native plant research between the UW and Birzeit University.
  4. Weekly zoom meetings to share progress on activities and to consider ways to share and adapt plant propagation information and protocols between UW and Birzeit University.

Conduct Site Visits in Preparation for the Development of an Environmental Evaluation Framework for Community Land Trusts

Vince Wang, Real Estate
Dylan Stevenson, Urban Design and Planning
Sandy Bishop, Lopez Community Land Trust
Jackie Keogh, Kor Community Land Trust

Project abstract
Community land trusts (CLTs) are a local nonprofit model that provides permanently affordable housing and other lasting community assets. Because of its unique community-based governance structure, it holds great transformative potential to address the compounding risks of affordable housing and climate change crises.

We propose to conduct a pre-interview site visit to Kor CLT in Bend, Oregon and Lopez CLT in Lopez Island, Washington, national CLT leaders in addressing climate-related challenges. During the visit in August 2023, we plan to familiarize ourselves with both CLTs’ environment-related initiatives, document site-specific contextual factors impacting their climate change goals, and identify potential informants for future interviews.

This project will contribute toward refining our study approach to apply for a PHI grant this fall in partnership with Kor CLT and Lopez CLT. In the next-level study, we propose – for the first time – to develop a CLT-specific environmental evaluation framework through interviews with key stakeholders to help CLTs build on their existing data collection tool in monitoring and assessing their environmental efforts. We further plan to expand the use of this tool in CLTs across Washington, which collectively are known as the nation’s environmental CLT leaders.

Taking the Pulse of the Community: Developing Survey and Interview Tools for Measuring Public Perceptions on Wastewater Reuse in Western Washington

Heidi Gough, Environmental and Forest Sciences
Yen-Chu Weng, Program on the Environment

Project abstract
Reliable access to clean water is essential to human health. Communities in Western Washington face increased water scarcity due to longer/drier summers, sea water intrusion and population increases. To conserve water resources, water districts, such as Silverdale, are implementing plans to reuse wastewater – sometimes with public pushback. Existing research on the public’s perceptions of wastewater reuse predominantly comes from dry regions. No research has addressed what influences public perceptions on wastewater reuse in Western Washington, where the general public may be unaware of the looming water crisis. A survey questionnaire and an interview guide are needed to support systematic data collection and analysis of community stakeholders’ perceptions in “wet” regions.

Our project will: (1) Review the survey and interview tools and results in existing literature that document public perceptions on wastewater reuse from around the world. (2) Develop a survey questionnaire and an interview guide, engaging with Dr. Gough’s established collaborators at Kitsap Public Utility District and the Silverdale Water District for industry-perspective feedback. On-site visits will facilitate co-development of the survey and interview questions with wastewater industry collaborators. (3) Project scoping to engage with additional wastewater districts as potential future research partners – anticipated to include Forks and Friday Harbor.

Migrant Justice is Climate Justice: Building a partnership for community action and research with populations detained at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center

Robin Evans-Agnew, Nursing & Healthcare Leadership (UW Tacoma)
Vanessa de Veritch Woodside, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (UW Tacoma)
Maru Mora Villalpando, La Resistencia

Project abstract
The team’s mutual goal is to improve the health of immigrant populations detained at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) on Tacoma’s Tideflats. We intend to engage stakeholders to scope a project around community-identified research needs for these populations. Through this process we will explore new directions for research and action within our collective interests in climate change-induced migration, climate justice, and migrant justice. Given the highly sensitive nature of our topic, we need planning time to assure the cultural and personal safety of all those involved and to develop a core partnership based on the principles of Community Based Participatory Action Research (such as trust, power stewardship, etc.; see Lucero et al, 2018).

In addition to building our core partnership within this applicant team, we intend to develop a plan for investigating environmental (indoor and outdoor, including climate and Planetary Health) threats on individuals in detention. In addition to assuring safety, the planning process will include: 1) engaging <15 persons currently inside or with prior detainment experience at NWDC in the planning process, 2) development of an interview tool for assessing health risks, 3) determining processes for remunerating participants for their time and effort, and 4) mapping involvement of UW Tacoma students.

The Value Public Health Brings to Climate Change Initiatives

Nicole Errett, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences
Betty Bekemeier, Child, Family, and Population Health and Health Systems and Population Health
Jeremy Hess, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, Global Health, Emergency Medicine
Bradley Kramer, Public Health – Seattle & King County
Kathleen Moloney, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences
Mary Hannah Smith, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences

Project abstract
Despite the severe health consequences of climate change, integration of public health departments into local climate change planning remains limited. The NACCHO Global Climate Change Workgroup identified a gap in knowledge within local health agencies about the role and value that public health professionals can bring to climate initiatives, deterring action.

This project will develop research tools to document the benefits of, and the barriers and facilitators to, local public health partnerships on climate change work. The project team will develop a research approach with NACCHO’s Workgroup, developing and piloting two interview guides, one for public health practitioners and one for planning partners in other sectors, such as transportation, energy, and housing. The project team will iteratively revise the interview guide based on feedback from interviewees, create a brief summary of interview findings, and meet with the Workgroup to co-develop a plan for a larger study. The project plan will include an interview sampling strategy for gathering information from representatives of local public health departments and other partner agencies on embedding public health and health equity into climate change adaptation projects.

DecarbCityTwin: A Platform for Equitable Decarbonization of the Built Environment

Narjes Abbasabadi, Architecture
Carrie Sturts Dossick, Construction Management
Daniel Kirschen, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Kate Simonen, Architecture
Christopher Meek, Architecture
Mehdi Ashayeri, Southern Illinois University
Lylianna Allala, City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment
Ani Krishnan, City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment
Nicole Ballinger, City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment

Project abstract
The goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 requires cities worldwide to reduce carbon emissions from buildings, which is crucial. Achieving equitable decarbonization is also essential, as marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by energy inefficiency, air pollution exposure, and energy and health burdens. However, current research in this field is hindered by various gaps, including a lack of data, a whole systems approach, and a universal and accessible platform for data integration, interoperability, and multi-domain exploration.

This project seeks to address these gaps by developing a prototype of the DecarbCityTwin platform, which aims to facilitate equitable decarbonization of the built environment. The project will enhance the effectiveness of design optimization, retrofit approaches, planning instruments, and policy strategies, while considering equity and the impact on human health and total lifecycle energy and carbon emissions. The framework will use a hybrid physics-based simulation and data-driven approach, incorporating real-world data and leveraging AI, machine learning, knowledge graph, and automation to increase model accuracy, efficiency, and accessibility. The framework and tool will be piloted in Seattle to support local efforts towards just transitions, including Seattle’s Green New Deal and Washington’s 2021 Climate Commitment Act, and will align with the Justice40 federal initiative. The framework’s scalability allows its adoption in other cities, yielding long-term environmental, social, and economic benefits.

Exploring Net Zero Emissions Pathways in Washington State

Dargan Frierson, Atmospheric Sciences
Eileen V. Quigley, Clean Energy Transition Institute
Ruby Moore-Bloom, Clean Energy Transition Institute
Joshua Lawler, Environmental and Forest Sciences
Samuel Pennypacker, Environmental and Forest Sciences and Atmospheric Sciences
Alyssa Poletti, Atmospheric Sciences

Project abstract
We plan to host three meetings over the two summer months with CETI staff and UW scientists working on clean energy pathways in order to identify critical research needed on clean energy transitions in Washington.

The first meeting will be open to the broader UW community and will focus on the existing directions of participants’ work. These will include:

  1. PI Frierson’s Climate, Justice and Energy Solutions textbook, and accompanying graphics and interactive visualizations on clean energy transitions worldwide.
  2. PI Lawler’s work on Nature-Based Climate Solutions in Washington.
  3. CETI’s NW Clean Energy Atlas and Northwest Net-Zero reports.
  4. Poletti’s work on future scenarios with lower energy demand and reduced energy poverty.
  5. Pennypacker’s work on Washington state climate solutions with climate justice implications.

A second, smaller workshop will be planned for the core team which will dive into the “nitty-gritty” details of the research tools that are used by each group. This will include plenty of time for brainstorming different research directions, which will help us develop potential avenues for future collaboration. Finally, in a third workshop we will plan out specifics of a future collaborative research agenda, including estimated timelines and potential funding sources.

More information about Population Health Initiative climate change planning grants can be found by visiting our funding page.