Celebrating CHE’s Legacy & Future
Last Saturday afternoon, longtime environmental health leaders gathered in the Commonweal gallery in Bolinas, California to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE).
What an amazing roomful of people.
We looked back together on two decades of creative, collaborative and evidence-based efforts to catalyze change. We celebrated key partnerships, and we looked ahead to the role CHE will play in meeting the complex, urgent challenges we now face.
And we enjoyed a moment of community, recognizing how important it is to stay connected in the long-haul work of promoting environmental health and justice. Below are a few highlights and images from the day.
Shared Memories, Key Partnerships
Three of CHE’s co-founders, Michael Lerner, Steve Heilig and Ted Schettler, shared the story of the walk on the beach when the vision for the Collaborative was born. They highlighted the excitement and energy of CHE’s founding meetings, and the early convenings that created “learning communities” focused on the role of chemical exposures in driving learning disabilities, increasing Parkinson’s risk, undermining fertility and more.
As our CHE History by the Numbers cards highlighted, CHE hosted 13 convenings of the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative between 2002 and 2012 — one example of many such discussions CHE coordinated over the years.
We also heard the story of CHE’s key role pulling together the 2005 Fertility Summit which resulted in the groundbreaking Vallombrosa Statement on Environmental Contaminants and Human Fertility. This in turn led to the founding of UC San Francisco’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE), the first academic program of its kind in the country and a leader in the field to this day.
Alison Carlson shared how, as a Senior CHE Fellow in the early 2000s, she brought together scientists, health professionals and advocates to build the consensus needed to move this critical work forward. PRHE’s Director Dr. Tracey Woodruff laid out the program’s current “science to action” priorities, and Dr. Shanna Swan called on all of us to find the most compelling, powerful ways possible to communicate what we know. Dr. Swan is one of the world’s leading environmental and reproductive health epidemiologists and author of Count Down, the 2022 book documenting the global impact of chemicals on sperm count, reproductive health — and ultimately, human survival.
We highlighted some of CHE’s key partnerships over the years, including the EDC Strategies Partnership, CHE Alaska and Agents of Change in Environmental Justice. Agents of CHE founder Ami Zota, who was a CHE “20 Pioneers under 40” award winner in 2018, sent a message of congratulations – here’s an excerpt:
“As CHE turns 20, the organization has shown an ability to nurture community, highlight important and innovative science, as well as provide a space to amplify early career scholars with potential and promise. I look forward to participating in the evolution of CHE as it seeks to address the environmental public health problems of the future amidst our changing scientific, policy, and media landscapes.”
Meeting Today’s Challenges
Our third panel discussion highlighted Dr. Pete Myers and Dr. Tyrone Hayes in conversation about how best to meet the complex environmental health and justice challenges now before us.
They both underscored the importance of recognizing, but not being hamstrung by, the complexity of environmental health science — including how climate change and chemical contamination are inextricably linked. Both once again underscored the importance of communicating emerging science (and its implications) in ways that move us toward concrete changes in policy and practice.
In our final session, I shared CHE’s priorities as we move into our next decade together. In addition to continuing to host our partner webinars and revamping our website, we’ll be diving deep into three issue areas: children’s environmental health (with a focus on disproportionate exposures), cancer and chemicals, and issues at the intersection of petrochemicals and health.
In each of these areas we’ll work with partners to strengthen our research to action resources, and highlight effective “multisolving” solutions.
Strength in Community
I was struck over the course of the afternoon by the power of storytelling and the importance of relationships in this hard work we do together. Many in the room had worked together over the years in collaborations deeply rooted in common purpose — and respect.
I hope this strong sense of community was felt by those who zoomed in, and will come through in the video recording, which is coming soon. Meanwhile, the photos below will give you a sense of the day. We were also excited to launch our “20k for 20 years” fundraising campaign at the event, with a surprise matching gift from our friends at the Environmental Working Group!
Our growing team looks forward to moving CHE’s collaborative work forward in the coming year, and beyond.