Climate & Health Stories: Brenda Hoppe
Meet Brenda Hoppe.
Brenda is a research scientist with the Minnesota Climate & Health Program. She studies all the ways that climate change can impact the health and well-being of Minnesotans and advises MDH on how to best address those impacts.
What most excites you about your work?
Brenda: What excites me most about my work is how interdisciplinary it is. Every day I get to work with smart, caring, creative, critical thinkers representing a broad range of fields and areas of practice on addressing one of the greatest challenges of our modern era. It’s incredibly interesting, dynamic, and collaborative work.
How is your program preparing for and/or responding to climate changes in Minnesota?
Brenda: Our program has a long track record of working with our state climatologists and other climate modeling experts on applying climate data to understand human health and safety risks associated with climate change. We’ve learned so much about the power of climate data for understanding and planning for our climate future, and we’d like to share those lessons, particularly with planners and decision-makers that can use these data to fuel effective resiliency strategies.
That’s why our program partnered with state and local emergency management professionals to co-produce regional climate data reports for use by emergency management staff and their partners to advance their planning for extreme weather and climate-related disaster events. Not only do these reports provide emergency management with estimates of future temperature and precipitation trends for their region, but they relate these trends to recent climate-related events and their broad impacts on communities, to underscore the threats these trends represent for our shared future. It was very rewarding working with emergency management professionals across Minnesota on this project. They are an incredibly dedicated group of caring people who are powerfully positioned to help us adapt to our changing climate.
Why do you think it’s important for MDH to be working on this issue?
Brenda: People rely on our agency to protect and improve the health of all Minnesotans. Climate change has been identified as the leading health threat of our century, so it makes sense for MDH to be on top of this issue. In addition, the scope and scale of climate change requires cross-disciplinary solutions that are supported by decision-makers and responsive to local communities. Given our agency’s long-standing partnerships with local communities, as well as our connection to state leadership, we can act as a bridge to advance targeted climate and health strategies for populations across our state.
How has climate change impacted your life personally?
Brenda: It’s given me a very fulfilling career for one. Every day I’m learning something new and working with people who are passionate about climate change. Yet, it can be tough. Not everyone is engaged as they could be and some people are still resistant to accepting scientific evidence and the reality of climate change. Some days my work can feel like a steep uphill battle, which can be mentally and emotionally draining. That’s why I’m so thankful for my Climate & Health team and our partners because they keep my spirits lifted and enable the work that I find so rewarding.
How has integrating climate change into your work allowed you to collaborate with programs you normally wouldn’t?
Brenda: I’ve just started a study in collaboration with colleagues from MDH’s Mental Health Promotion program. We’re surveying mental health professionals across Minnesota regarding climate change impacts to emotional and behavioral health. This field of mental health, partnering with this group of care providers, applying qualitative methods…all of this is quite new to me. But, I’m learning a tremendous amount through our partners, and I’m amazed at the broad interest we’ve received in this study. Already it’s been such a great experience, and we’ve only just begun!
What do you think are the biggest opportunities for climate and health moving forward?
Brenda: I think the biggest climate and health opportunity for Minnesota right now has to do with our farmers and the rural communities that depend on them. Farming is a hard profession. I come from a long line of Wisconsin dairy farmers (yep, I’m one of those Cheesehead transplants!) so I have an intimate appreciation of this—and climate change is making it harder.
Climate extremes like flash droughts, floods, or heat waves can devastate a farm in the short term and create long-term, broad consequences. Besides having serious impacts on the mental and emotional health of farmers and their families, this loss of livelihood has a ripple effect throughout a community. A farm is at the center of a network of other businesses that depend on that farm for their own viability, such as equipment manufacturers, grain mills, hardware stores, credit unions, and many more. One farm going under, one family left struggling with income insecurity and all the ways that can threaten health and well-being, is a concern for the entire community. Put all these farms and all these communities together across the Midwest and we’ve got not just an opportunity, but a duty to address climate change pressures for this population. As late Senator Paul Wellstone liked to say, “we all do better when we all do better,” and I think those of us working on climate and health issues need to work hard for a better future for our farmers and farming communities grappling with climate change. This is definitely a priority issue for me.