April 2024 Champion: Abby Novinska-Lois

Blog > Champions of the Month > April 2024 Champion: Abby Novinska-Lois

April 17, 2024 | By: Ira Dreyfuss

Abby Novinska-Lois, MPH, CPH

Photo provided by Abby Novinska-Lois

In eighth grade, Abby Novinska-Lois was already a climate activist. That was around 2008, in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, after her science teacher taught a unit on climate change.

“About a month later, I helped lead my first protest on an overpass over our Main Street,” she recalls. “We sat on the overpass with signs, so cars could see information about protecting our planet.”

The path from the overpass to where Novinska-Lois is now — executive director of Healthy Climate Wisconsin (formerly known as Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action) — led through school. She got her bachelor’s in environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s in public health at the University of Utah. Around 2020, she became involved in Healthy Climate Wisconsin after meeting leaders of the state’s climate health movement.

Just before that, she was spurred to action by her own climate-related health crisis. The Madison area was having an intense heat wave compounded by a massive power outage that took even cooling centers offline. Novinska-Lois wound up in an emergency room with symptoms of heat exhaustion. In the course of treatment, she discovered she had an autoimmune disorder exacerbated by heat.

“I was so sick for about a year that I was struggling to walk,” she says. “What it highlighted to me was that there’s so many people whose health is suffering.”

Community climate health is now a big part of her profession — for instance, air pollution in Beloit, about 60 miles south of Madison, near a gas-fueled power plant. Beloit has an unusually high number of asthma hospitalizations, but until recently, it had no particulate air monitors. Healthy Climate Wisconsin got the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to loan some monitors, and enlisted students at Beloit High School and UW-Eau Claire to track and analyze the data. Their results, featured in the IQAir 2023 World Air Quality Report, found Beloit had the worst air quality for a regional city in America. The next step is to confirm the results with higher-grade monitors that provide data that the community and the government can use to require cleanup action.

Novinska-Lois builds on success. “We work people up through the engagement ladder by helping them see their power first in a more local venue,” she says. She praises “an amazing team of highly professional volunteers.” And she advises: “Connect early and often because it’s truly about having a network.”