By Erin Lodes on February 25, 2019
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Climate change is a leading news topic the world over. We are surrounded by terrifying headlines based on continual reports about how bad the effects will be. Not to mention, the pictures of the damage we have already done to the environment through pollution and our use of unsustainable materials. It can all be a little (read: very, very, very) overwhelming.

Climate change will affect many (if not all) aspects of our daily lives, including our pets and livestock. These changes include an expansion of disease vectors (insects that transmit disease), habitat changes, and natural disasters. Climate change also will exacerbate zoonotic diseases (diseases that can spread from animals to humans), which are already responsible for more than two million human deaths each year.

Veterinary professionals have long worked in the interconnected spaces between animal, human, and environmental health. This One Health concept has existed since the age of Hippocrates, and continues to be an integral part of veterinary education. Dr. Karyn Bischoff, chair of the American Veterinary Medical Association Committee on Environmental Issues shared her insights about the connection between veterinary medicine and environmental health.

Bischoff spoke about veterinarians working in agriculture to promote environmentally friendly advice on waste and carcass management, encouraging wildlife-friendly practices, decreasing risks associated with animal waste and antibiotic use, working with state departments to manage wildlife populations and conservation, and writing policy through the Department of Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration. This list is by no means exhaustive. The work veterinary professionals can do and are already doing in this realm is as varied as the people, animals, and environments they help.

Climate change, Bischoff says, is certainly a factor in looking at the relationship between veterinary medicine and the environment. It will increase harmful algal blooms, change the range of wildlife, and affect mold growth on grain and forage for livestock. Extreme weather events will likely result in an increase in healthcare required by both domestic and wild animals. As we look at fighting and adapting to climate change, a One Health approach would be extremely beneficial, which means veterinary professionals have an important part to play.

Environmental Wellness at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine

The weight of the climatic challenge we are facing can feel heavy, especially on individuals who are already concerned with work, bills, and all the daily stresses of life. Add that weight on top of going through veterinary school, and it becomes a lot to handle. Perhaps one of the places individuals most keenly feel the sting of trying to be environmentally conscious is the grocery store, where everything they’re looking at is wrapped in environmentally-unfriendly plastic.

This is exactly where Kaity Denney (DVM 2021) was at—in the middle of the grocery store—when she couldn’t take the stress anymore. She posted on social media about the struggle to live in a sustainable way and her post, accompanied by other conversations, started a dialogue about how students could promote sustainability at the College. Other members of the class of 2021—Katie LeBlanc, Katelyn Chilla, Kellie Rizzolo, Sarah Marhofer, and Liz Ritchie—also had a hand in growing the idea into a SAVMA committee.

“We at MSU attend a premier land grant institution; our mission is to give back to our community and protect our lands. An environmental committee fits perfectly within this framework.” - Kaity Denney

Environmental Wellness Committee

Chair: Kaity Denney (DVM 2021)
Members: Emilie Belage (DVM 2021), Katie LeBlanc (DVM 2021), Nikki Hein (DVM 2022), Claudia Gonzales (DVM 2022)
Merchandise Chair: Katelyn Chilla (DVM 2021)

The SAVMA Environmental Wellness Committee’s goals include:

  • Promoting sustainability by encouraging the College community to make use of reusable containers for their meals and bring reusable containers to meetings and events that involve food
  • Creating a dialogue about the need for sustainability through guest speakers
  • Bringing compost bins to the College
  • Encouraging student clubs to be more sustainable by providing an eco-friendly club grant
  • Planning an Earth Day clean-up project
  • Selling SAVMA merchandise that allows students to buy more eco-friendly items

The SAVMA Environmental Wellness Committee’s message is that everyone can get involved in big or small ways. On that note, the Committee would like to leave you with these parting words: reduce and reuse before you recycle.