Living with Environmental Change: Impressions

For two days, climate change experts, researchers from various social, natural and health-related disciplines, policymakers and agency representatives gathered in Birmingham on invitation of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) initiative which has been in existence since 2008 to discuss state-of-the science, policy priorities and recommendations. The conference, entitled ‘Supporting the Road to Adaptation’.

Irrespective of projections based on a 2 or 4 degree warming of the planet, rising sea levels, melting ice and global and local climate changes are under way. Much discussion has also focused on the role of human behaviour in affecting the extent and speed of climate change. Human activities have changed the odds of severe weather events. But there is also increasing awareness that linear prediction models have not accounted sufficiently for the complexity of human behaviour and environmental dynamics.

Current activities of the LWEC programme revolve around two central concepts ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’. Mitigation focused activities relate to strategies to prepare for and reduce the impact of climate and environmental change mostly based on the statistically modelled impact of climate change on the physical, natural and social environment; adaptation refers to ways of ‘living with’ the effects of climate change and navigating this changed world. 
Why should SDHI be concerned about environmental change? I would contend that there are several arguments that could be made for an increased engagement in the climate change agenda. Firstly, the understanding of both mitigation and adaptation mechanisms requires not only environmental science data but also social and behavioural science expertise. SDHI has a long track record of working across various social science disciplines, including human and social geography, health and social psychology, and anthropology. Researchers affiliated with the Institute can draw on a vast portfolio of research methodologies, including population statistics and data linkage, community mapping, survey data and qualitative explorations. 
Secondly, one of the key strands of the LWEC inititative and focus of the recent Health Protection Agency (2012) report are the health and wellbeing effects of climate change. The number of heat days has been increasing statistically over the past twenty years. Consider the implications for a growing number of younger and older adults with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Changes to the indoor and outdoor environment as a result of ozone level changes and humidity may be particularly challenging for people living in substandard housing, ultimately the less affluent and resourceful segments of society will bear the most profound and extensive impact on their health, wellbeing and opportunities for participation.  This is clearly at the heart of the ‘Building Bridges’ Strategy that SDHI has adopted in 2011, which positions health, wellbeing and participation at the centre of four overlapping areas of influence (economy, environment, demography and technology). SDHI has closely worked in partnership with the Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience (CECHR), a joint initiative between the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute (JHI), which has produced joint PhD studentships and knowledge exchange events at the intersection of natural hazards, environmental impact and health and wellbeing. Information is also exchanged at the level of Steering Group and Management Team between the two interdisciplinary platforms. 
Thirdly, there is rising awareness in the LWEC community for concepts such as ‘vulnerability’ linked to adaptation. SDHI has a substantial social dimensions focus on population groups that are being considered as ‘vulnerable’; i.e. people who are homeless, people with disabilities, dementia, long-term conditions, low literacy and/or limited material resources. We are arguing for a socio-relational understanding of ‘vulnerability’. In other words, not specific populations are vulnerable but environmental and social processes can render them vulnerable via lack of access to needed resources, compromised opportunities for influence and self-determination and social and physical marginalisation and exclusion.
Clearly, SDHI’s multi- and interdisciplinary research over the past 9 years into service systems, organisations, behaviours and marginalised populations including people with disabilities has and will continue to make substantial contributions in this area. 
Finally, in ‘Building Bridges’ we have laid out a commitment to linking local and global expertise. Over the past year we have seen an increasing number of academic exchanges and presentations with local and global research relevance. This is also in line with the ambitious strategic plan of the University of Dundee, entitled ‘Transformation’. 
We view climate and environmental change as one of the most significant challenges of the 21st Century, both from a basic scientific as well as from a social justice perspective. SDHI is committed to work in partnership with other organisations, research platforms and centres to inform through research and creative innovation the next Climate Change Risk Assessments (CCRA-2 and -3).

Ageing and compound caregivers of people with learning disabilities – Webinar

SDHI are holding a further webinar ‘Ageing and compound caregivers of people with learning disabilitieson Thursday 18th April 2013 at 3.00pm (GMT), led by Elizabeth Perkins, Research Assistant Professor, Florida Center for Inclusive Communities, Department of Child and Family Studies, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, University of South Florida.  For further information please see webinar flyer (Elizabeth Perkins webinar flyer 18 April 2013)

SDHI Webinar – Secondary datasets in disability and health

SDHI are delighted to announce their webinar ‘Secondary datasets in disability and health: tools for researchers using United States datasets’ to be held on Thursday 6th December at 3.00pm (GMT), led by Arun Karpur, Research Faculty, School of Industrial & Labor Relations, Employment & Disability Institute, Cornell University, New York and co-presented by William Erickson, Research Specialist, Employment & Disability Institute, Cornell University, New York.  For further information please see webinar flyer (Arun Karpur webinar flyer 6 Dec 2012)

Seminar by Dr Ruth Jepson

The School of Medicine and Biological Sciences at the University of St Andrews are hosting a seminar ‘Let’s get physical: Health benefits of physical activity and approaches to increase, and sustain participation presented by Dr Ruth Jepson on Thursday 15th November at 4pm in Seminar Room 2, Medical and Biological Sciences building, University of St Andrews.  Ruth is a senior scientific adviser to Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP) and is mainly interested in promoting physical activity.  All Welcome.  For further information please contact Dr Gozde Ozakinci (go10

Health and Wellbeing through Literature, Film & Theatre by Lisa Nicoll – 8th November – POSTPONED

Please note that Lisa’s presentation due to be held on Thursday 8th November at 5pm in Lecture Room 4, Gateway Building, University of St Andrews has been postponed.

For further information about Lisa visit

Health and Wellbeing through Literature, Film & Theatre by Lisa Nicoll

SDHI would like to remind you of the next in a series of events presented by Lisa to be held on Thursday 8th November at 5pm - ‘Leathered’ – Book presentation and discussion in Lecture Room 4, Gateway Building, University of St Andrews 

Leathered is Lisa’s first piece of fiction and is a short novel about choices facing teenagers. The book has been piloted for feedback in St Kentigerns and Bathgate Secondary Schools in West Lothian. The book is to be launched Scotland wide for all secondary schools in 2012 with a general publication to follow


This is a free event 

If you would like to attend please contact Rosanne Bell (r.c.bell

For further information about Lisa visit

Future directions in Disability and Health Excerpt from Dr Gloria Krahn’s Acceptance Speech of Lifetime Achievement Award of the APHA Disability Section

“…Let me offer some projections for future developments for Disability and Health:
We’re in the midst of another major transition—Disability Inclusion.  That is from thinking about disability as a minority population with unique issues that need to be addressed within separate systems, to holding a perspective that assumes inclusion and accommodates for disability; where we regard disability status as just one of the characteristics or determinants that define us and our life experiences.  This social determinants perspective represents an important shift from a minority view to an inclusion view. It should re-cast where we identify disability, our research design and analyses, our methods of intervention, and our communication and policy strategies.
And as we push to be included in mainstream public health programs and policies—that is, playing with the big boys and girls– we need to be ready with rigorous data and science, and strategic policies and communications. 
The second issue I hope we’ll see development in is on the international and global arena.  The US disability and public health agenda has been fairly domestically focused, and perhaps even resistant to taking a global perspective.  I think we saw that with the slow adoption of the ICF.  The World Health Organization and United Nations have pushed forward some noteworthy achievements:  
These include the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the World Report on Disability, and a recent Initiative to promote inclusion of children with disabilities.

We have a lot to learn from experiences of other countries.  And we have a lot to share.  As one of the most resourced countries in the world, we have a responsibility to share our knowledge and to think about applicability for different situations and populations.  In recent discussions with international colleagues in intellectual disabilities, we began the dialogue about how data-rich countries could support approaches in countries with little data, including how to avoid some of the dead-ends that we may have pursued….”
(Excerpt from the Acceptance Speech on Monday 30 November 2012. Dr Krahn received the APHA Disability Section’s Lifetime Archievement Award)

‘Dismantling the fence’ Day 3 @APHA

On the first day of the conference I reflected on the contrast between the life on the streets of San Francisco and the ‘protected’ and sealed off environment of the conference (how many homeless people got to attend and have a say?). Both so close and perhaps, even connected in content and practice but at the same time worlds apart. This impression stayed with me throughout my days here and was reinforced on the walk from and back to the hotel where a very heteregoneous community of the dispossessed desperately push for some visibility in this world of shiny displays of upmarket jewellery and fashion stores. They are kept outside in the doorways, park benches, gutters and may only find temporary access to the indoor world in a subway, parking garage or overnight shelter. They are shunned, made different, a line is drawn between them and us. Perhaps, the accelerated step when rushing past them, the averted glance, the raised voice to silence their request for a bit of hope in the form of money – perhaps, all this is just our way of maintaining the divide between them and us so that we do not have to confront the reality that they at one point also played a role on our side of the fence. And that our life path could catapult us very quickly into ‘their world’. Now why am I writing this? The point is that we are taking this dividing line into our research. Most public health or other health-related research is still ABOUT people and populations. It is not conducted WITH people who are the immediate stakeholders. Participants in studies are still relegated to being ‘subjects’ in academically pre-conceived studies that seek to fill a gap in the segregated world of evidence-based practice. The number of truly emancipatory and participatory action research projects is ridiculously small. And this approach is frowned upon by many traditional empiricists and frequently rejected as unscientific as the population, the intended outcomes, and the intervention processes may change in the context of the study. BUT, this type of ‘research’ produces immediate change that is driven by the community as the principal stakeholder. It is a research WITH, not ABOUT. To be fair there may have been brilliant examples – and I know there indeed have been – of this way of working at the APHA conference but I would still maintain that very few community representatives could afford participation at the conference. We need more ‘WITH’ in our applied health and social research. There is so much to gain: greater ecological and external validity, buy-in and support of the research from Day 1, more rapid change, fulfilment of human rights on inclusion and the dismantling of the socially constructed fence between ‘them’ and ‘us’.