Dr. Cecilia Sorensen   

Dr. Sorensen is an Emergency Medicine physician-investigator in the area of climate change and health at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the University of Colorado School of Public Health.  Following residency training at Denver Health, Denver, Colorado, she became the inaugural Living Closer Foundation Fellow in Climate and Health Science Policy, based at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Dr. Sorensen has a broad range of expertise at the intersection of human health, environmental health and social justice.  Her recent work has spanned domestic as well as international emergent health issues related to climate change, including, heat stress and worker health in Guatemala, wildfires and health care utilization in the United States, the emergence of Zika virus in Ecuador following the Earthquake of 2016, climate change and women’s health in India and mortality following hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Translating this research into policy to order to build resilience in vulnerable communities is the focus of her work.  To this end, she has served as a health author for the U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment and serves as a technical advisor for the annual Lancet Climate and Health U.S. Policy Brief.  Additionally, she is a founding member of the Colorado Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a member of the Colorado Consortium for Climate Change, a scientific advisor for the Citizens Climate Lobby and the course director for the nations’ first medical school course on climate change and human health.  Dr. Sorensen has lectured nationally and internationally on this subject while also providing education for the lay public. 

Symposium presentation:

Oil and Gas Emissions: Impacts on Global Climate Change and Human Health

Emissions are becoming an increasingly important issue in the context of energy demand, health effects, and climate change.  Long-term energy projections from governmental, non-governmental, and commercial organizations, anticipate that global energy consumption will increase 20-35% relative to 2018 levels, and that demand for oil, natural gas, and renewables will grow to fill these needs. Given these projections there is an urgent need to increase policy efforts to incentivize decarbonization of the energy sector to avoid worsening of now apparent negative impacts on human health. 

The global health impacts from the carbon-based economy are now well-established.  Nineteen of the 20 warmest years on record all have occurred since 2001 (the other being 1998),  atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to climb (exceeding anything measured in the past 1.2 million years), and the largest and most powerful storms ever recorded have occurred in the past five years. Together these changes to our ecosystems undermine healthy living; exacerbate chronic illness and stress socioeconomic determinants of health— all directly contributing to increased morbidity and mortality. From these, the numerous health stressors are frighteningly diverse and pervasive: heat stress (from extreme heat); worsening lung function from degraded air quality and aeroallergen spikes; fevers from vector-borne diseases; vomiting and diarrhea from diminished water quality; and trauma from extreme weather events and increased civil discord. The prevalence of heat-related illness, food insecurity, and waterborne and vector-borne infectious disease is predicted to increase this century, especially among vulnerable populations living in developing countries. Climate change even further undermines human security through population displacement, violent conflict, and poverty entrenchment. Solutions for mitigating and adapting to these health threats are urgently needed.