The Connection between Climate, Health, and Healing

Metropolitan Group
6 min readApr 22, 2024


By Surili Sutaria Patel

Hurricane Gustav, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Credit: wikimedia.

Like many of you, I have seen climate disasters shake communities at their core. These increasingly frequent events often disrupt people’s lives, mine included. It’s exhausting and scary, but there is a way forward, together. Our strength remains in our collective and diverse wisdom, lived and professional experiences, guidance by the communities and from elders in the storms’ way, and our ability to give and receive compassion. Please lean on me, allow me to lean on you, and let’s keep working to heal each other and our beloved planet.

In 2008, I was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during Hurricane Gustav. Our neighbors across the street, like many families, evacuated to safety before the storm made landfall. While they were away, a tree fell and flattened part of their home. We waited for the storm to pass before stepping outside to assess the damage. Nearby we heard a dog yelping and whining in pain. The fallen tree had also torn down the fence the dog had been leashed to, so we rushed over to rescue her. Our other neighbors, seeing what was going on, quickly brought over food, water and other items for the wounded animal. At that moment we were all unified in a shared mission: to restore a sense of safety and certainty to our community, starting with the dog.

As the hours went on we saw neighbors coming together to help one another — from picking up debris in the yards to repairing broken windows. This shared experience of weathering Gustav together connected our neighborhood in a new way, albeit under difficult and trying circumstances.

Not everyone in Baton Rouge was as fortunate as the people in our neighborhood. Power and phone lines were down for several weeks. Since many of us didn’t have electricity, our food spoiled and we sweltered in the muggy heat of August, with no air conditioning. I later found out that my office building was deemed unsafe to work in, gas was in short supply and prohibitively expensive, and families were standing in long lines to receive food assistance. It was one of the more sobering times in my life and forced me to confront the fact that after a natural disaster, humans need each other to survive.

Hurricane Gustav, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Credit: wikimedia.

I often recall this experience when I’m working on climate and health issues today. I can’t help but think that even though I’m just one person, my wins are the wins of my colleagues — and vice versa — as well as the communities we belong to and serve. Despite the sometimes “Sisyphian” nature of our work, I feel so fortunate to be in community with my fellow health professionals who I know care deeply about the causes we are addressing, and who more importantly honor the humanity within each of us by dedicating ourselves to this work.

I mentioned that our work tends to be Sisyphean, which refers to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, a man condemned forever to push a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. It can be exhausting to feel like we are surrounded by social injustices and crises that happen one after another with no end in sight. As soon as we think one issue has abated, another pops up. In my case, the hurricane wiped out our power, the stifling heat threatened our wellbeing, and our food went bad — all effects of climate change. Even if we’re not in the storm’s eye, the swarm of news, social media, and information about the latest climate catastrophe is dizzying.

Look within any of these climate crisis stories, pay attention to whose lives, homes and livelihoods are most destroyed, and you’ll find structural racism. There is no denying that the systemic injustices of the past, such as segregation, are still being lived, experienced and perpetuated in contemporary forms: Decision-makers site affordable housing in disaster-prone areas, permit toxic dumps and facilities (which can leak or explode in a climate incident) in communities of color, and deem those neighborhoods literal sacrifice zones. Meanwhile, too often progressive movements are stuck in polarizing national debates as well as ideological and political divides.

Instead, let’s root our work in the needs that are being reflected back to us by the lived experience, expertise and wisdom of communities across the global majority, communities living on the land and off the land.

There is magic in listening deeply to those disproportionately impacted by climate health inequities. And that must go beyond information gathering. When I set foot in a one-on-one interview or focus group where someone shares the things that concern them, like the climate change, health and racial justice conversations I recently had with community leaders, I listen deeply, with suspended judgment and an open heart. This is a reverent space and people have thanked me for asking what ails them, physically, emotionally or socially — they are not usually the ones being asked or listened to. As I reflect back to them what I have heard with authentic curiosity and concern, I often witness the unfolding of a beautiful relationship; together we have built a foundation of being seen, validated and trusted. No matter how much health is seen as an individual challenge, it is nothing but. It is collective and so, too, is the path to healing. As my colleague Dr. Shadiin Garcia likes to remind me: “Healing is never a solitary endeavor.”

The work of climate health justice is hard. Really hard. And we are needed more than ever. The 2023 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report paints a troubling picture, claiming that there is a “closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future.” This is talking about both mitigation and adaptation actions at the subnational, national and international levels. Yet we all know the impact is felt at the local level. That’s where we come into play — civil society, small business owners and community leaders all have a role to play in accelerating shifts and building momentum toward climate justice.

Feeling anxious? You’re not alone. Many of us are prone to overworking, over-worrying and suffering from anxiety. This is not the way to solve the climate crisis! Another wise colleague, Aayaan Jamwal, shared this: “Healing is not a one time event; healing is an everyday practice of transforming your feelings and alchemizing energy. Healing cannot happen at the level of your thoughts or rational brain.” We need to invite a practice of healing into our daily lives so that we can practice self-compassion and show up in the healthiest state possible to address the issues and causes we are trying, collectively, to address. This work is not a sprint; we are running the relay of our lives. And unlike a solo race, we will succeed in this work only if we all triumph.

So with that, I call on you to make a commitment to practice self-compassion and exhale the harmful toxicity so prevalent in the current world. Right now, I want you to take a deep inhale and rejuvenate your lungs with the knowledge that we are in community, we’re working on a shared mission and we won’t give up on the calling of health equity. The truth of this work sustains not only us in our lifetimes but all the future generations of humanity that will lovingly call this planet home. Thank you for taking this sacred and radical breath of air with me as we move, together, toward a new future.

Credit: Adobe Stock.

As another Earth Day comes and goes, Surili Sutaria Patel, vice president and environmental health lead at Metropolitan Group, shares her reflections on what it truly means to work on environmental issues that are at the core of our society. What we value most — our health — is inextricably linked to environmental issues. Surili has spent decades working at the intersection of climate change and health equity, and is learning to lean into the wisdom her mentors, partners and friends have shared with her to remain steadfast in her work, and her drive to heal self and planet.



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