Environmental Health and Resiliency

What are the lessons for environmental health and the resiliency of ecosystems and social systems from the COVID-19 event, and how can greater understanding of them affect policies contributing to a more resilient and sustainable environment and economy?

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered human activity from local to global scales, with system-wide impact on the environment and economics including employment, education, movement of goods and services, health delivery and other life support. For example, large scale reduced transportation activities (automobiles, commercial vehicles, air travel) are already measurable, as well as associated reductions in air and water pollution. Amongst these reduced human associated activities, a re-emergence of cryptic wildlife has occurred.

Importantly, the COVID-19 triggered changes have exposed threats to the resiliency and sustainability of critical supply chains for food, medical supplies, and other essentials. In academic institutions like USF, the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected how we work (greater reliance of teleworking), how we provide education to our students, shop for goods, and diagnose and treat common aliments (tele-med), and challenges the need to expand “bricks and mortar” supporting some commercial sectors. It remains to be seen if, and for how long, these changes will be evident, but measuring effects now provides a baseline from which the impacts of the economic recovery and concomitant environmental effects following the pandemic will play out.

The significance of these environmental and economic changes may alter our perceptions of the effectiveness of environmental management, the utility of existing transportation options, the mix of energy sources and their relative effects on the planet, how people and businesses use physical facilities, and how goods and services are organized into networks of supply chains serving the country and the world. As we have seen, federal and state agencies and private donors have become increasingly aware of the broader implications of the pandemic and the importance of strengthening the economic and environmental resiliency of our society. Using these events and themes as a launch point, we plan to inspire debate on “Re-Imagining a Post-COVID World”.

It is important to stress that the scope of the Environmental Health and Resiliency Hub’s (EHRH) activities address critical aspects of the pandemic’s impacts that transcend the public-health response to this incident by considering aspects leading to a society better equipped to respond to a wider variety of future catastrophic events. The NIH’s OneHealth initiative is aligned with this focus on the totality of factors affecting health outcomes and not just one factor. Similarly, the military, Federal Emergency Response Management Agency (FEMA) and other state and federal agencies, as well as private foundations (e.g., NFWF’s Resilient Communities Program, the UPS Foundation, etc.) supporting efforts to enhance resiliency.

Our three main goals are to:

  • Collect, describe and exchange of information regarding funding support from various agencies and private donors, related to areas of interest
  • Provide a forum where people with diverse expertise can develop multidisciplinary collaborations leading to competitive research ideas and rapidly develop competitive proposals to respond to unique research opportunities stemming from COVID-19, and
  • Advocate for additional research and meaningfully contribute to the global debate on the options we have for improving the resilience of society, the delivery systems for goods, and the sustainability of the planet to a wide variety of catastrophic threats.

Coordinators: Steven Murawski, College of Marine Science; Sandy Justice, USF Sarasota-Manatee

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