Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Summer 2022

Introducing the Climate Change Corner: A Look Ahead

Michael A. Diefenbach, PhD‚úČ; SBM Past-President and Climate Change and Health SIG-in-Formation Chair


Dear Colleagues:

This is the inaugural Outlook column on Climate Change and Behavioral Medicine, a space reserved to discuss behavioral medicine’s role in research, policy, and advocacy related to climate change. In the forthcoming issues of Outlook, we will read how SBM’s special interest groups describe their specific topic areas in relation to climate change. I cannot wait to see the various results and count on the ingenuity and the innovative spirit of our members to apply their specific expertise to this pivotal topic.

In response to the Provocative Questions in Behavioral Medicine initiative, members identified the issue of climate change and behavioral medicine as one of the most important areas to engage. In response, the Society charged me to form a Presidential Working Group (PWG) on Climate Change, Behavior Change and Health. The mission of the working group was to (1) summarize key knowledge and identify key issues to inform a research strategy for transdisciplinary translational research to enhance health and reduce climate change, and (2) to provide recommendations to SBM leadership for engaging the SBM community to advance climate change-related research, as well as for developing policy and advocacy actions. With my co-chair Kara Hall, PhD, from the National Cancer Institute, we identified relevant experts and stakeholders from various disciplines, including environmental and glaciological sciences, health care delivery, political science, and of course the many disciplines with behavioral medicine.

The PWG consisted of five subgroups that were led by a chair and a co-chair, member volunteers, and early career members. The subgroups tackled the following topics (1) climate and behavior change, (2) health-related behavior and climate change, (3) health inequity and climate change, (4) communication, and (5) policy and advocacy. The groups met regularly from the fall of 2020 to the summer of 2021 and then commenced to write their individual reports. These reports were recently published in the April 2022 issue of Translational Behavioral Medicine in a special section of Climate Change and Health. The papers provide a comprehensive overview on behavioral medicine’s position as a discipline regarding theory, intervention efforts and advocacy. I encourage everybody to look at the special issue.

The PWG also made specific recommendations to the society to enhance its policy and advocacy work and the board of directors uniformly approved the working group’s recommendations. Most importantly, climate change and health are now a policy focus for SBM. This designation devotes resources for climate change advocacy and trains members who are willing to serve as climate change policy ambassadors. All members who want to learn more about the role of a climate change policy ambassador or want to assume that role, please contact SBM’s Executive Director Lindsay Bullock (LBullock@sbm.org) or myself (mdiefenbach@northwell.edu). We need as many members as possible to represent all regions of the United States.

The society realizes that we cannot address the issue of climate change alone and need to join forces with other organizations and groups who are advocating for climate change measures. In the past 18 months, the Society has joined the following groups: (1) Lancet Countdown, (2) Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, (3) National Academy of Medicine Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the U.S. Health Sector, and (4) ecoAmerica. Detailed information about SBM’s climate related activities are described here.

Finally, SBM’s Executive Committee also approved the forming of a Climate Change and Health SIG. This is an exciting opportunity for our members to become involved in climate and health behavior work. We are envisioning the Climate Change and Health SIG as a trans-disciplinary forum where members with varied research interests will explore how their expertise can be applied to climate change research and advocacy. Any member who is interested in being part of this new SIG, please email me at mdiefenbach@northwell.edu. We are holding our first inaugural phone call this summer to plan activities for the next year and the annual meeting in 2023. I invite you all to be part of this new initiative.

Our annual meeting with the theme of "The Urgency of Adaptation" highlighted the importance for the Society to engage in pressing issues, such as climate change, diversity, and structural racism. I firmly believe that our research and advocacy have and will continue to make a significant difference in the health and lives of others. I hope you join me in tackling this next and most important challenge in our lives.