Women in climate change: Mona Arora

Mona Arora

Mona Arora works to build the health system's capacity to address public health problems, including climate change. One of her current projects is to bring together teams to understand how the COVID-19 response can inform both pandemic and climate preparedness.

University of Arizona Health Sciences

During Woman's History Month, University of Arizona News is spotlighting some of the many women on campus who are working on climate change-related issues in various disciplines.

In a recent commentary published in Nature, world-renowned climate scientist and UArizona Regents Professor Diana Liverman and her co-authors write that climate change will have disproportional impacts on women, who in many societies have the responsibility to provide food, water and child care but are more likely than men to lack access to land, insurance and disaster relief. Liverman and her co-authors also write that women play crucial roles in climate change research, response and adaptation.

UArizona has a long legacy of women researching climate change, and today there are outstanding women researchers working on climate-related issues in nearly every college on campus, from early career scientists to Regents and Distinguished Professors. 

"I'm so proud of the number of amazing women working on climate issues at the University of Arizona," Liverman said. "We cover a wide range of expertise – from climate science and communication to policy and art. We are making a difference in what we know and what we can do from the local to global."

Mona Arora joined the university of Arizona in 2006 and is an assistant research professor in the Department of Community, Environment & Policy in the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. She has over 13 years of experience in emergency preparedness, workforce development and community engagement.

Q: What is the focus of your climate research?

A: I am an applied researcher, and my work focuses on bridging the gap between science and policy. I build public health and health care system capacity to address "wicked" public health problems including pandemics and climate change. My work is also focused on building public health and health care system capacity to mitigate and manage the health impacts of climate change through training and education. My projects are centered on collaborating with public health and health care partners to strengthen existing systems such that they are not only resilient but sustainable. A part of this work, therefore, involves increasing awareness among health care professionals and sub-disciplines in public health on their role with respect to climate, health and equity. An equally important part of my work is community engagement and resilience through education and outreach and participation in shared decision making through community advisory groups.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored what climate scientists have heralded for decades: Systemic inequities are the common denominator for every health, public health and social issue. As we move forward, it is important to look in the rearview mirror and understand both the strengths in how we, as communities and societies, responded to the pandemic, but also what we have to learn. As a result, one of my current projects is to bring together cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary teams to understand the lessons learned from our COVID response and how it needs to inform both pandemic and climate preparedness. 

Q: What originally got you excited or worried about climate issues, and where do you think your work can make a difference?

A: I became motivated to work on climate and health issues at a time when national and international reports were beginning to voice concern about the consequences of inaction on human and animal health and well-being.

During my master's degree program, I had to evacuate due to Hurricane Ivan. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans while I was in India completing my master's thesis, upending my plans to pursue a career in tropical medicine. These experiences brought me face to face with the human toll of disasters and the importance of having strong, resilient social and public health systems that could support communities regardless of the stressor – such as extreme heat, flood or disease outbreak. Today, my 8-year-old daughter is my main motivation as I worry about the world that we are leaving for her and children around the world.

I feel I can make the most difference through my teaching and through motivating and engaging future leaders. I believe it is important for both the current and future health care and public health workforce to understand the implications of this complex issue and the role of their respective disciplines and professions in raising awareness, encouraging dialogue and informing solutions.

Q: What's one thing you want everyone to understand about climate change? 

A: Climate change, like COVID, is a threat multiplier. It exacerbates the health and social inequities and is not something that is happening in the far distant future. It is happening now. When we hear about the allergy season becoming longer or when we learn about a coming heat wave, these things impact all of us in different ways. And unlike what we may hear around us, all of us can do something about it. We can be more aware, talk about it rather than ignore it, and reflect on our own lifestyles and actions. Today, we have so many resources and opportunities. We can calculate our carbon footprint using an app or an online calculator or join a book club at our local library, for example.

Climate change is not just a science issue or policy issue. It is not simply a water issue or a health issue. It is an existential problem that we face not only today but that our future generations, our children, will face for years to come. And one that requires societies, governments and communities to work collaboratively to understand and tackle.

Q: What advice do you have for young women or girls who may be interested in a career related to climate research or policy?

A: Don't be disheartened by the negativity that we often see around us and in the media. There is always reason for optimism. Look for the silver lining. There is so much momentum and hard work that individuals and concerned citizens like yourself are doing at the local level. Secondly, believe in yourself. Stay firm in your convictions, work hard and always be empathetic. But also know that believing in yourself and being confident need not mean that we lose sight of what makes us human. One of the best pieces of advice I received from my mentors is that people may forget what you say but they will never forget how you made them feel.