Interview with Tord Kjellström, member of the Exhaustion advisory board
Tord Kjellström has more than 40 years of experience as an environmental and occupational health scientist. He has been working for 12 years in the World Health Organization (WHO), including four years as a director of the office of global and integrated environmental health. One of his responsibilities was to manage the WHO activities globally on climate change.
- One thing led to another, and eventually I got to work with climate change and health effects. Since 2002 I’ve been working with this topic.
What was your motivation for working with health effects of climate change?
- At that time people had really no idea about the health effects of climate change. I have really felt very strongly that occupational health has been underestimated or not given enough attention. The ignorance of health effects on working people has been the trigger for me.
The Exhaustion project was launched in July 2019, and the researchers will amongst other measure health inequalities and socio-economic determinants of health.
- The Exhaustion project is important, because it also brings in the socio-economic impact in a very clear and ambitious way into the project.
What are your thoughts on the responsibility of researchers in the current context of accelerating climate change?
- The researchers have a very important responsibility, because they are the ones who can build up additional knowledge about what is going on already and what may happen in the future. We have more and more heatwaves, also in Europe. Scientists should take actions to produce information to interact with decision makers in a more targeted and effective way.
Aiming to substantially advance the knowledge and develop new evidence regarding the links and correlated impacts between climate change, extreme heat, air pollution, and human health in Europe, the Exhaustion project is ambitious.
- As a consequence of dealing with the causes of climate change it is possible that air pollution in urban areas will be reduced, as we can’t have cars driven with petrol and diesel. We will have to change to electric cars and produce electricity in renewable ways. This creates opportunities to do research that really influences the policies at country level.
- The scientists can be involved in presenting the knowledge so that decisions makers, not only in governments, but also in enterprises and in the industry and in agriculture take action, because they realize when they get the information that they are going to be affected, and that action needs to be taken. So I think scientists have a very important job. In fact one of the things I am currently inspired by, of course, are these young people demanding action by the politicians, including Greta Thunberg. In my town Nelson in New Zealand there are around 50 000 inhabitants, and on the 15th of March this year they had a school strike for climate. As many as 2000 young people turned up in the small town for the school strikes.
- The exhaustion project is covering impacts of heat and air pollution in the whole population. But we should not forget that working people, particularly in physically demanding jobs, they are really a vulnerable group. The heat effect on working people will be one of the biggest consequences of climate change – and thus loss of productivity and ability to work.
You could have retired, what keeps you going?
- I have a young grandson who is six, and I always think about the fact that he is going to be alive in 2100, his children in 2130, and his grandchildren in 2160! So it is really part of my own family, whom is affected by what is happening out there. We cannot just ignore it. We need to intensify our scientific work and communicate the results widely.