Published: 04/22/2024

Photo Caption: A mother teaching her child how to plant a tree, by @eyoel_kahssay_photographer.

Following is a letter to the CIGH community from Director Michele Barry on Earth Day.

Dear Global Health Colleagues,

When we damage this planet we call home, we pull strings connected to human health, economics, conflict, and migration —  jeopardizing the fundamental human right to good health, a secure home, and opportunity. When we take steps to protect ecosystems and slow climate change, people everywhere benefit. This Earth Day, we shine a light on the grave impacts of climate change and other environmental challenges on human migration and health, and how war and conflict exacerbate this crisis.

Escalating geopolitical pressures in the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Yemen, DRC, and other countries are compounding the global refugee crises also driven by climate change-induced adversities. Yet, we often ignore the ways modern warfare impacts climate change and undermines the efforts to stabilize global warming. A 2019 report from Brown University found that the US military emits more carbon dioxide than some industrialized nations. While global military emissions are difficult to calculate due to large reporting gaps, one organization — the Conflict and Environment Observatory — has estimated the military’s global carbon footprint to be 5.5 percent of all emissions, which is more than the total emissions of the African continent. My colleague Dr. Robin Cooper has written that as wars persist and threaten to expand, carbon emissions from warmongering will increase and accelerate the climate crisis, threatening the health and wellbeing of the entire planet. 

Meanwhile, as climate change escalates, it’s also jeopardizing the homes, livelihoods, and access to essential resources for billions of people. Often, those countries that did the least to create the climate crisis are most impacted. One recent study projects that unchecked climate change will cut Africa’s revenue from crops by up to 30 % and leave an estimated 200 million people at risk for extreme hunger. A 2019 study found that climate change has already deepened global economic inequality by around 25 %. Climate change can make migration journeys even more difficult for people who are already fleeing challenging circumstances.

These complex challenges require a wide-ranging global response, including public health interventions, shifting migration policies, and coordinated advocacy. And of course, they serve as an urgent call to action to end our dependence on fossil fuels and rapidly reduce carbon emissions.

Read on for some ways Stanford and other organizations are responding. We invite you to consider how the growing challenges of climate change, resource scarcity, and consequent migration and displacement might play into your work.

  • Human and Planetary Health is a core pillar of our center, and we’re excited to partner with the Woods Institute to support the Human and Planetary Health Initiative now housed at the Doerr School of Sustainability to foster solutions-oriented research, advance leadership, and accelerate global impact. The initiative offers many ways for faculty, students, community supporters, and interested funders to get involved.
  • CIGH recently collaborated with the University of Washington to create Medicine for a Changing Planet, a series of CME-accredited case studies designed to help medical professionals respond to the health challenges of climate change, including migration and refugee health.
  • Through our refugees & vulnerable populations pillar, CIGH aims to enhance clinical care and improve the lives of vulnerable and underserved populations – with a special emphasis on refugees and migrants impacted by conflict and climate change. We are proud to support Families at the Border, a group of community members, physicians, medical professionals, and university affiliates working toward improving the health and wellness of immigrant families and youth at the U.S- Mexico border. This group welcomes volunteers and collaborators. We are also in conversation with the International Rescue Committee in East Africa to see how Stanford can support their efforts to provide humanitarian health care to those affected by climate change and fleeing conflict zones.
  • Stanford’s Immigration Policy Lab evaluates and designs policies surrounding the integration of immigrants and refugees worldwide.
  • The Stanford Refugee Rights Network is an interdisciplinary network of students interested in issues related to forced migration and refugee rights; Stanford affiliates can join their email list.On May 9-10, the Graduate School of Business will host a conference on climate change and human mobility.
  • I will moderate a panel on climate’s impacts on marginalized communities. Another GSB-hosted conference on May 20-21 will address Pollution and Health.A new Stanford class explores how to make sense of the human impacts of climate change on individuals, communities, and governments.
  • While not related to climate migration, this Q&A with a Stanford student addressing pollution in India offers a hopeful message about how each of us can make a difference.In these fraught times, I sign off again with a singular word — hope. 


— Dr. Michele Barry, CIGH Director, and the Stanford Global Health Team