Startup Links Climate Change With Personal Health To Fuel Advocacy
Upstream Research is a platform that provides pollution data along with health metrics to make large-scale environmental change visceral
Scott and Nick Bedbury believe that the future of environmentalism is in our backyards. As co-founders of the environmental and health analytics company Upstream Research, their goal is to inspire grassroots activism by making ecological data accessible for all. But people don’t care about stats; they care about their personal health. By analyzing levels of environmental toxicity in relation to disease rates, Upstream Research adopts a tactile, intimate approach to environmental activism.
“We can change the way we look at the environment by making it more local and relating it to your health and your family’s health,” says Nick Bedbury, Upstream Research’s CEO. “At the same time we can also change the way we think about public health and the crossover of healthcare at large, and how you keep the community healthy.” To their knowledge, Upstream Research is the first platform to leverage both environmental and health data.
Scott Bedbury describes the company as a “startup with a mission like a nonprofit.” This philosophy has yielded two platforms: Upstream Reports, a condensed data resource for families and individuals, and Upstream Navigator, an in-depth application for larger organizations and research groups.
The company’s consumer-focused Upstream Reports displays an overview of the toxicity data of any given area’s water, soil and air contents, along with data rates for cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and key socio-economic info.
“In further developments of the product, we are trying to tie in a level of relativity…we want to drive a mix of curiosity and concern,” Nick explains.
However, Upstream Research is careful to explain that correlation does not imply causation. For example, Atlanta’s above average rate of uninsured individuals has little to do with its high rate of fine particulate matter. Similarly, Atlanta’s risk factor index for lead exposure is 95% higher than the average rate, but this does not mean that a case of lead intoxication is inevitable.
Nick explains that the relationship of these variables can help influence where people choose to live, work or go to school. Of course not every family has the luxury of choice, but this information can still allow individuals, families and healthcare providers take preventative steps to lead healthy lives.
“Our goal is to get in one place and get it easy and then begin to chart out the relationships and make available this information…to let other parties do the study,” says Nick.
However, there’s an imperious roadblock that we haven’t brought up yet: United States President-Elect Donald Trump. In today’s political climate, the future of environmental change cannot be discussed without speaking of those that oppose it. Trump’s Administration maintains an ardent dissatisfaction at current regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The nomination of Scott Pruit, a vocal Climate Change denialist, to head the EPA further indicates the agency’s uncertain future.
“[We’re] trying to get as much information downloaded before Trump takes office, before it gets harder to find,” Scott explains.
By recognizing that climate change is an infallible constituent of one’s health, Upstream Research is making environmentalism far more than a partisan issue. Future administrations may ignore the efforts of scientists and activists, but we can create pressurized, effective change in our neighborhoods.