CSU One Health Institute funds pilot projects around ‘Climate Change and One Health’ theme

Climate Change

The impacts of climate change are significantly affecting public health, animal health and the health of the environment. The challenges posed by climate change are accelerating and affecting life in unprecedented ways.

To address the enormity of changing climate, the One Health Institute at Colorado State University is supporting five pilot projects with the theme of “Climate Change and One Health.” This program, launched in Fall 2021, was promoted by CSU OHI and the School of Global Environmental Sustainability and supported by the Office of the Vice President for Research. By applying a One Health framework – the consideration that the health of humans, animals and the environment are interconnected and reliant on one another – to the issue of climate change, interdisciplinary teams will contribute solution-oriented research that will help study and plan for the anticipated impacts of climate change.

Many agencies are offering continuation funding for projects investigating climate change interventions, and CSU is situated to become an early leader in this area of research. The One Health Institute aims to serve as a catalyst for groundbreaking solutions across multiple transdisciplinary boundaries in the area of One Health that will take evidence into action.

The projects described below represent the efforts by five principal investigators and 16 co-PIs in 12 departments and six colleges at CSU. Each project has identified follow-on funding to allow these pilot projects to develop into mature programs among interdisciplinary teams.

Smoke-ready communities: Creating and sustaining air quality information using targeted communication interventions to improve human and animal health

Lead PI: Ashley Anderson, associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Communication, Colorado State University.

Co-Applicants: Katie Abrams, associate professor, Department of Journalism and Media Communication; Colleen Duncan, associate professor of pathology, Department of Microbiology, Immunology, Pathology; Shantanu Jathar, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering; Emily Fischer, associate professor of atmospheric science, Department of Atmospheric Science; Marilee Long, professor, Department of Journalism and Media Communication; Sheryl Magzamen, associate professor of epidemiology, Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences; Jeffrey Pierce, professor, Department of Atmospheric Science.

Climate change has contributed to the worst wildfire years on record in the United States in the past decade. In 2020 alone, 9.5 million acres were burned, and Colorado saw three of the largest wildfires in its history. While poor air quality associated with wildfire smoke has been widely recognized in some areas, many communities lack the resources to understand how it can negatively affect their health and the health of their animals.

Without a streamlined, regional communication system, it is difficult for people to understand their specific air quality danger. This project will create a communication infrastructure within the city of Fort Collins that enhances the available information about air quality. The project will develop targeted messaging and utilize trusted sources to inform vulnerable populations about steps they can take to protect their health and the health of their animals in the event of increased wildfire smoke.

“It’s important to explore this invisible risk to our health and give people the tools that they need to protect themselves and their animals in dangerous air quality situations,” said Ashley Anderson, associate professor in CSU’s Department of Journalism and Media Communication. “We have an interesting interdisciplinary team, and the work we’re doing requires a lot of engaged minds with different backgrounds. It’s exciting to be working on the human side of how we engage with people when it comes to talking about their health.”

Projecting human health impacts from temperature extremes under scenarios of solar climate intervention

PI: Brooke Anderson, associate professor, Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.

Co-PIs: James Hurrell, professor and Scott Presidential Chair in Environmental Science and Engineering, Department of Atmospheric Science; David Rojas-Rueda, environmental epidemiologist and professor, Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences; Lantao Sun, research scientist, Department of Atmospheric Science.

While many countries have committed to decreasing their carbon emissions as part of the Paris Agreement ratified in 2016, there are still significant issues involving climate change. Climate interventions are proposed approaches that aim to accelerate the removal of greenhouse gases or reduce the amount of heat energy in the climate system.

Solar climate intervention — an attempt to moderate the warming of the earth by increasing the amount of sunlight reflected into space — would reduce the amount of solar energy trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere. CSU researchers are beginning to examine solar climate intervention as a mechanism that can supplement the reduction of carbon emissions to lessen the impacts of a warming climate. A 2021 National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report recommended that the U.S. establish a solar climate intervention research program as an important component of the country’s climate change research portfolio. Little research has been conducted on the impact of solar climate intervention on human health. This project aims to fill this research gap and develop a framework for projecting future health impacts under scenarios of solar climate intervention.

“Solar climate intervention is not a solution to climate change,” said James Hurrell, professor and Scott Presidential Chair in Environmental Science and Engineering at CSU. “Reducing carbon emissions is the solution. But, with the study of solar climate intervention through a one health lens, we have an approach that can help avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change we expect to see in the coming years. The key mark of One Health is that it is transdisciplinary, and CSU is an extraordinary place to conduct this research.”

Research opportunities for emerging technologies in virtual livestock fencing and potential for mitigating the effects of climate change on western ranches

PI: Paul Evangelista, research ecologist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) and assistant professor, Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability.

Co-PIs: Dana Hoag, professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics; Lily Edwards-Callaway, professor, Department of Animal Sciences; Tony Vorster, graduate student, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory; Olivia Clark, CSU Extension director, Western Region.

Extreme weather events stress humans, animals and their shared environment. In the Rocky Mountain West, these challenges present dangerous threats to livestock, native animal and plant populations. There are an estimated 33,800 Colorado ranches covering nearly half of the state. These ranches provide habitat for thousands of species of wild plants and animals.

Ranches in the West have inadequate resources for response and recovery and are highly susceptible to drought, wildfire, floods and other significant weather events. CSU researchers participating in this project are testing how virtual fencing could alter the climate change effects on range management.  Virtual fencing is a new technology that would allow ranchers to control the livestock movement more strategically, avoiding sensitive habitats, dangerous terrain, and has the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change through adaptive ranch management.

Collars placed on livestock are equipped with GPS tracking capabilities and communicate with the virtual fencing system. Different types of stimuli will be tested to determine the effectiveness of confining a group of cattle into certain areas without the need for physical fencing.

“Ranching communities are some of the highest at risk when it comes to the threats of climate change,” said Paul Evangelista, research ecologist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) and assistant professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at CSU. “They house our biodiversity, our watersheds, sensitive ecosystems, and make up for more area than public lands in our state. While they are our most vulnerable community, we are hoping to help them recognize that they are also ultimately our salvation, as they are at the forefront for potential solutions to climate change.”

NATURGREEN – NATive Urban GREEN Spaces for climate, pollinators and human health

PI: David Rojas Rueda, assistant professor, Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.

Co-PI: Jennifer Bousselot, assistant professor, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.

Since 2001, the United States has lost 24 million acres of natural area to human factors such as agriculture, energy development and housing plans, making the country highly vulnerable to climate change effects. To combat the issues caused by changes in land cover, city planners use urban green spaces as a tool to preserve the environment. Research has shown that neighborhoods with more urban green space have fewer heat waves, better air quality and increased public outdoor socialization and exercise. However, urban green spaces are more frequently supported in higher-income, predominantly white neighborhoods, leading to social inequities.

Several U.S. cities have proposed increasing their urban green spaces to combat climate change. In Colorado, Denver has set a goal to achieve 20% of urban green space by 2050. Unfortunately, many urban planners frequently turn to turf and exotic plants to expand green space. These vegetation types are not ideal for pollinators, which play an essential role in the health of the environment. This project will investigate the use of native plants as urban green space development and how doing so will increase the visitation of pollinators and positively impact human health.

By partnering with the city of Denver, CSU researchers hope to gather information on pollinator utilization of urban green space and how it impacts human health, primarily in terms of mortality and mental health through a health equity lens.

“Climate change is arguably the most important threat of public health that we will face in our lifetime,” said David Rojas, assistant professor in epidemiology at CSU. “Policy scenarios will be mapping the city in the next six years, and we hope to produce data that can be used in other cities. Advocating for native plants in urban green space now will not only benefit biodiversity, but connecting human, animal and environmental health at the city level will help people understand the importance of approaching climate change with a one health framework.”

The Reimagine Project: Building a high-functioning transdisciplinary team culture

PI: Dr. Kimberly Stackhouse-Lawson, professor of animal science and Director of AgNext at CSU.

Co-PI: Jennifer Eileen Cross, associate professor of sociology and director of Research for the Institute for the Built Environment.

The Western Great Plains is the largest remaining grassland in North America and supports critical livestock-based food production. This ecosystem and industry are facing potential significant transformation due to the threat of the changing climate. These stressors have the potential to create massive shifts in livestock production and ecological health as well as production variability and economic viability.

Researchers working on this project said they recognize that the sustainability of rural communities, ranching operations, and grass and rangeland ecosystems are inherently linked — and all may experience shifts in the coming years. By researching these changes through a One Health framework, researchers suggest they plan to mitigate these changes as much as possible to protect the biodiversity and economic viability of farmers and ranchers on the Western Great Plains.

This CSU team will work alongside ranchers, conservation organizations, industry, public and private financial institutions and community partners to address the challenges ahead. The primary focus of the project will be building a community-based framework for guiding strategic implementation of sustainable livestock production practices that will advance the resiliency of rural communities and livestock-production systems that also support thriving rural communities and economies.

“There are already 35 researchers from across campus working on grazing, soil carbon sequestration and community building,” said Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, professor and director of AgNext. “We are quickly ‘re-imagining’ this project and are working to build community among some of the best scientists at CSU. We are looking forward to watching this critical work here at CSU.”

Importance of pilot projects

The One Health Institute provides infrastructure to connect CSU researchers studying complex challenges impacting human, animal and environmental health. Research teams contribute solution-oriented research that will help mitigate and plan for the impacts that climate change will have on the earth in the coming decades.

Multifaceted problems require transdisciplinary solutions, and the CSU One Health Institute is a leader in solving complex issues through research, training, outreach and advocacy.