UMN students speak out about health implications of climate change

Health Students for a Healthy Climate aims to combat the health effects of climate change.

HSHC co-chairs, from left, Jack Ingrid, Niamh Hart, Emma Butzer, Nikki Russell, Zoe Kondes, and Marie Gilbertson pose for a portrait on East Bank on Sunday, Sept. 29. Health Students for a Healthy Climate is a student group that provides students in the Academic Health Center with an interdisciplinary forum to learn about the health impacts of climate change and ways to lead action as future health professionals.

Kamaan Richards

HSHC co-chairs, from left, Jack Ingrid, Niamh Hart, Emma Butzer, Nikki Russell, Zoe Kondes, and Marie Gilbertson pose for a portrait on East Bank on Sunday, Sept. 29. Health Students for a Healthy Climate is a student group that provides students in the Academic Health Center with an interdisciplinary forum to learn about the health impacts of climate change and ways to lead action as future health professionals.

Jasmine Snow

As a group of University of Minnesota health science students head into the field, they are preparing to face the health issues brought on by climate change. 

Health Students for a Healthy Climate is a group comprised of University students from across the health sciences who aim to address and spread awareness of the health implications of climate change. Members say future healthcare professionals will need to adjust their practices to be more environmentally conscious. 

Hyun Kim, assistant professor at the School of Public Health’s Division of Environmental Health Sciences, said the group is long overdue. Kim said climate change can lead to a multitude of public health issues like mental health problems, mass migration, disease and death. 

“Understanding what the climate change impact to us is and then preparing ourselves to adapt. It’s not something we can find and then remove … We need more attention on this,” Kim said. “Especially from the younger generations because it will be … their world.”

HSHC was founded about 3 years ago by four nursing students to inform those in the field about the intersection of health and climate change.  

“Really, the mission has kind of evolved over time,” said Jack Inglis, a medical student and HSHC co-chair. “Trying to figure out what students who are busy can reasonably accomplish in a student group and trying to figure out what we could do to get the student body engaged and informed on this issue.”

The group settled on monthly “climate convos” where a member will do research on a specific topic or issue relating to climate and health. Then the member does a small presentation of what they have found and the group has a more in-depth discussion about it. 

While HSHC is primarily a discussion group, they also use their leverage as a student organization to advocate for similar causes and attend events whenever they can. Recently, HSHC was a part of the MN Youth Climate Strike at the State Capitol.

For some members, interest in environmental issues came long before joining the group. 

“I think it started when I was younger,” said HSHC Co-Chair Nicolette Russell, a fourth-year dental student. “We would have these performers come to my school and they would talk about recycling and stuff. Then, in high school, I became more kind of conscious of recycling things and reducing waste.”

HSHC co-chair Marie Gilbertson is a Ph.D. student at the College of Veterinary Medicine. 

“I grew up living close to a city park and spent my childhood running around in the woods, playing outside and being devastated any time a tree was cut down,” Gilbertson said.

For others, like nursing student and Co-Chair Zoe Kondes, involvement in the environmental movement was more of a conscious effort.

“I always talked about advocacy,” Kondes said. “I was talking the talk, but I wasn’t walking the walk and so when I got to the U I told myself that I was going to be better about advancing environmental initiatives and not just talking about them.”