Fellow Spotlight: Alex Schrobenhauser-Clonan

Fellowship Type: Carbon Neutrality Fellow for Student Engagement

Campus: UCSF

Degree Objective: MD

Project Description: Patient Earth is a series of events aimed at bringing health and health sciences into the forefront of climate action and sustainability. The series involves both small-scale talks on “Calling a Family Meeting for Patient Earth,” which seek to target the emotional valence and professional identities of people in health care around climate action, and a larger symposium this April entitled EARTHEALTH1, which will bring together people in the earth and health sciences to discuss the identification and maximization of health co-benefits for all populations of decarbonization, renewable energy and sustainable design. The public and personal health framework helps to make this unprecedented transition to sustainable communities and civilization a palpable opportunity in the present moment, and something that communities should be asking their doctors, hospital systems and government agencies to work towards to move health care into an new age of reason, where the inseparability of what happens to earth and what happens to our bodies and even minds is acknowledged.

What impact does your fellowship work have on your campus, your community, the state, or the world? Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not the point of climate action, just as getting laboratory tests into a safe range is not the point of health care. I am trying to show my health sciences campus that their work will be hugely burdened by runaway global warming but even more grandly rewarded by sustainability and research into the health impacts of stable earth systems, biodiversity, sustainable industry and design, and reconnecting communities with local lands, water ways, weather and health empowerment through ecological regeneration.

What is a recent success in your project? Exploring the emotional impacts of full engagement with climate change amongst a group of UCSF students, faculty and staff, which are strikingly similar to the experiences of sickness, empathic distress and burnout experienced by health care professionals.

Why are you interested in the Carbon Neutrality Initiative? We often live in a virtual world where time and space have been erased; the CNI is helping me to reconnect with the “brick & mortar & emissions” reality of the campuses I have called home for so many years through my educational journey, while also responding to the delocalized effects of climate change which extend across time and space. Climate change is experienced everywhere uniquely because climate and Earth itself is utterly unique in every space, whether still wild or paved city street; this acknowledgment is part of extending the mindfulness practice and research I got involved with prior to the Fellowship beyond the confines of my psyche and social worlds into the total world where the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and even noosphere (the realm of human thought and consciousness) are perpetually dancing and exchanging energy, sure as the clouds in the sky each day.

What do you hope to do in the future using the tools you developed during the fellowship? I will be in my first year of psychiatry residency next year and I hope to grow the very small circle of people engaging with the question of how our earth and economic systems impact our mental health into a field of study that will acknowledge, in the same way that the psychoanalytic revolution acknowledged our childhood and family experiences as roots of mental health, that our relationships with the more-than-human world sculpt our mental health and resilience in grand and complex ways.

 

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