Heat, Fire, Flood and Drought: How Does Climate Change Affect Our Health?

19 Days  ◦  2 Instructors

This course will focus on how climate change is impacting public health in urban environments and rural communities in Mongolia. It will visit sites in central Mongolia to meet with local health officials to gain an understanding of how Mongolia delivers public health programs in both urban and rural areas of the country. It will explore how climate change is affecting health and health care delivery. The instructors will compare the experience of Montana and Native American communities in the US to the public health approaches and challenges in Mongolia.

Photo of Mongolian countryside

Course Overview

This course will focus on how climate change is impacting public health in urban environments and rural communities in Mongolia. We will visit sites in Mongolia to meet with local health officials as well as with climate scientists to gain an understanding of how climate change (hotter days, more wildfire, colder winters, drought) is beginning to impact human health. The instructors have just completed an assessment of the impacts of climate change on human health in Montana’s urban, rural and indigenous communities, and will look at similar trends in Mongolia. Invited to share during this course are two Tribal members from Montana involved in climate adaptation, as well as two public health officials from Mongolia.

In this course participants will have the opportunity to explore firsthand how climate change is impacting public health in urban environments and rural communities in Mongolia. Scientists are learning plenty every day about how climate change affects our oceans, forests, waters, and food security. But we are also quickly expanding knowledge on how climate change directly and significantly affects human health and well-being. Through short lectures, readings, site visits and conversations, we’ll learn how shifts in heat days, incidence of wildfire, flood and drought can and are impacting heat stroke, depression, pulmonary disease, vector borne disease, food security and other health issues in Mongolia and in other areas of the world.

Climate change is expected to have a disproportionate impact on countries with lower incomes, on northern regions, and on indigenous peoples worldwide. Mongolia is an excellent laboratory to witness firsthand the impacts climate change is having on the health of individuals, communities and the environment, and how people are working to mitigate these impacts and adapt to a changing global climate. Mongolia has experienced an average temperature rise of over 2 degrees, more than double the world average, and has a sustained indigenous population that faces a changing socio-economic situation that is complicated by climate change. You’ll come away from this course with a good understanding of health issues and climate change in Mongolia and other parts of the world, and how climate and health sciences overlay to paint a picture of our health future.

The class will start with discussions with government, health and climate leaders in Ulaanbaatar, then travel to the countryside to see how climate change is impacting traditional nomadic practices and public health delivery in rural areas. We’ll meet with natural resource managers, public health officials, herders, climate scientists and community members in facilitated conversations. We’ll learn about rural community clinics and observe recorded changes in the landscape.

The impacts of climate change on health are many, including increased mortality related to cardiovascular and respiratory conditions and heat stress, more premature births, rises in rates of depression, spread of infectious disease, and higher morbidity and mortality from gastrointestinal disease during extreme weather events, to name but a few. The literature and recent global reports point to many climate-related events as the culprits, including increased wildfire (pulmonary disease and asthma), more heat days (heat stroke and depression), early runoff and flood (vector borne disease), and summer drought (and related winter dzud and food security issues). Other factors at play are limited access to rural health facilities and poor communication between climate and health scientists and the communities in which they work.

In lectures, conversation and readings, with plenty of time to learn and explore on your own. Each student will have the opportunity to explore a topic of their own interest, and as a group we’ll learn more about issues such as:

  • What is a climate health assessment?
  • How do we understand the uncertainty around this?
  • What are the global and local trends with regard to extreme heat, extreme cold, drought, flooding, fires and smoke?
  • How does climate change affect health globally? A review of what we now know are the impacts of climate change on global health concerns.
  • How are vulnerable populations especially impacted?
  • What are the demographic and socioeconomic trends in Mongolia and current trends in health status/services?
  • What can we say about climate-change related health issues in Mongolia with respect to extreme heat, wildfires/smoke, floods and vector borne disease, drought and food security, etc.?
  • What actions can health agencies, rural clinics, and health certification programs take to respond and adapt to climate change, and what messaging will be most effective for clinics and communities, community planning, monitoring, policy change, and personal action?

This course is a great fit for those interested in climate science, environmental studies, global health, public health, health disparity research, ecotourism, community engagement, and policy development, all as we assess together our collective global climate future.


Anticipated Course Activities

Day 1

July 27


All delegates arrive in Ulaanbaatar

Participants will be introduced to Mongolian culture, language, history and contemporary issues. Students will meet their instructors and classmates, and begin to engage in course related discussions and explorations such as classes at Gandan Monastery and a visit to Choijin Lam Monastery. Discussions with experts from the Mongolian government, local NGOs and religious organizations.

Photo: Zaisan, Mongolia by Michael O'Donnabhain CC BY SA NC 3.0

Day 2

July 28


Rest day

This is one of the most significant sites in Mongolia. Night at a ger camp.

Day 3-5

July 29-31


Course orientation, and some field school meetings

Some field school meetings with climate and health experts in UB on topics of climate change, health systems and policy with assist by Mongolian exchange delegates

Day 6

August 1


Travel to ger base camp in Kharkhorin

Evening meeting with the Mongolian Buddhism, Nature and Conservation class to discuss the impact of climate change on depression and spirituality

Day 7

August 2

Buddhist site in Mongolia

Visit to the Erdenezuu Monastery

(Visit with the Venerable Baasansuren Khandsuren, Head lama)

Day 8-9

August 3-4

Photo of Mongolian countryside

Day trips to clinics and field sites in the area

To discuss climate and health impacts in semi-arid environments

Day 10-11

August 5-6

Mongolian ger

Base in ger camp with daily field trips and lectures

Daily field trips and lectures in a more alpine environment on topics of flood- and fire-related health impacts. To include visits to clinics and soums to discuss community engagement.

Day 12-16

August 7-11


Travel to ger camp in Hovsgol Province to with overnight in Moron

Visits to field sites and with herders en route. Discussion of indigenous knowledge regarding climate adaptation and health

Day 17

August 12


Return to Ulaanbaatar

Day 18-19

August 13-14


Course debrief

Final meetings with policy makers, recap of findings



Dr. Cathy Whitlock

Montana State University
Dr. Cathy Whitlock is a Regents Professor in Earth Sciences at Montana State University and a Fellow of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems. She is also the lead author of the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment. Cathy is nationally and internationally recognized for her scholarly contributions and leadership activities in the field of past climatic and environmental change. She has published over 200 scientific papers on the ecological history of Yellowstone and similar regions around the world. Cathy is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2018, she became the first person from a Montana university to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Susan Higgins, MS

Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity
Susan Higgins, MS, engages in water resources planning, landscape collaboratives and drought resiliency. She has consulted with the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, The Tributary Fund and The Taimen Fund, where she facilitated research activities, leadership exchanges and species and drought resiliency planning in Mongolia, Bhutan and Montana, all with an emphasis on developing best practices for scientists working with faith and indigenous communities. Prior, she directed research communications and water education at the Montana State University Water Center. Susan now works to connect health science researchers with rural and Native Montana communities for the Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity.

Other Instructors

We are in the process of identifying a Mongolian public health professional to join in field instruction, and are working to bring on Native American professionals in Montana who have already developed climate and health adaptation plans for their tribes. We are also setting up meetings with representatives of Mongolia’s Ministry of Health; the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency; Ministry of Environment and Tourism; Information and Research Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment; and other key partners like the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry.

"Attending the renewable energy field school was the best decision I made in 2019! I was already attending a fulltime graduate program in Canada, but the field school added rich value to my learning. As the world is becoming more globalized, looking at how Mongolia is responding to the challenges of supplying cleaner energy was a valuable experience. Our instructors came with a vast amount of knowledge and a passion to teach.’’

Liz B.

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019
Batkhuu SQ600

"As a sociology major student, this program was very helpful to explore urban issues and migration processes in contemporary Mongolia. Through this program, I sharpened my academic capabilities while refining soft skills essential for my future studies.’’

Batkhuu B.

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019

"The ACMS field school is a unique experience that has changed my life and teaching. In most programs, international participants are isolated from the country in which we are studying except for controlled visits to local people and sites. Not so with ACMS! Half of the participants in each field school are from Mongolia, ensuring that local and international participants have a chance to understand each other’s perspectives.’’

Janis M

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019
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