Our board members Lori and Rob Byron recently came together with Montanan and Mongolian experts for a field course in Climate Change and Public Health through the American Center for Mongolian Studies. The team visited hospitals, clinics, and herders, many of whom are displaced due to climate change. Healthcare professionals in Mongolia are far more aware of the health effects of poor air quality, due in part to the situation Mongolia is facing.
Mongolia's capitol Ulaanbaatar is seeing an unprecedented amount of newcomers (220,000 families) as climate change makes herding untenable in many regions, leaving herders with no choice but to abandon their lifelong careers and move to the city. Coal is the most prevalent heating source in these tightly-packed areas of new settlement. Worsening air quality is lowering the lifespan of inhabitants, stunting the growth of children, and increasing preterm births and miscarriages. Herders tell us that extreme weather is more common, and Bozeman climate scientist Cathy Whitlock agrees. She notes that Mongolia's average temperature is already 4 degrees F higher than it was in the 1940s, warming more than almost any other country. Dzuds, or bitter cold winters, are also increasing. This stops many herding families from making a livable wage -- the most severe of these storms killed 10 million livestock in 2010.
Various initiatives to improve the air quality are in place, including distributing stoves with increased efficiency and trading raw coal for coal briquettes. Health professionals in Mongolia continue to work toward solutions. Our group participated in a national round table event centered on climate change and health, which aired on the Mongolian National Broadcast. Dr. Byron was even interviewed! They were grateful to meet many amazing people, including PhD candidate JoRee Vi Lafrance, an enrolled member of the Absaalooka tribe, Mongolian colleagues Delgerzul Lodoisamba (PhD, environmental health) and Dr. Enkhzorig Batbayar (neurology), and University of Alaska PhD candidate Amgalan Batsuuri. And the co-leaders of the course, Sue Higgins and Dr. Cathy Whitlock of Bozeman. They look forward to learning from each other again!