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Post-Paris Pullout, the Health Sector Is Stepping Up for Climate Action

By Miranda Spencer
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When President Donald J. Trump announced on June 1 that he intends to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement, many of us were disappointed, even stunned.

But then something remarkable happened. Mayors, states, and professional organizations stepped up, mobilizing quickly to publicly restate their commitment to act on climate-- and to start making plans to do more. Within hours, the bipartisan United States Climate Alliance had been formed to keep the pact’s voluntary greenhouse gas-reduction pledges, and the group now counts 12 states and Puerto Rico as members.  When China is partnering with California on climate action and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg offers to pay to keep America in the U.N.’s climate negotiating body, it’s clear we’re living in an extraordinary moment.

Medical Momentum

Not surprisingly, the health care community was one of these first responders. Shortly after the announcement, leading health organizations and leaders from across the country—from the American Public Health Association and the American Lung Association to Health Care Without Harm and the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health —began releasing official statements and op-eds to the news media. Their overarching message: Climate change is a public health issue. We must act now, even if our government won’t.

On June 2, for example, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) issued a statement of solidarity:

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) is one with nations around the world, state and local government leaders and everyone in the community who expressed their dismay, frustration and anger at the decision to withdraw the United States from our commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

UPHE used the occasion to spotlight its recently launched UnMask My City campaign, part of a global effort to reduce air pollution. They also quoted board member Howie Garber, who described his experience as an ER physician who confronts health and climate links daily.  Later, Dr. Garber spoke at Salt Lake City’s Pride March and Rally.

Such efforts resulted in news stories that appeared in major outlets including NBC News and The Los Angeles Times  the same week—when the topic was still fresh in the public’s mind.  For example, Climate for Health Leadership Circle member Dr. Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a longtime member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, did an interview on climate impacts and solutions with MIT’s science magazine UnDark. Its headline: "Leaving the Paris Climate Accord Could Lead to a Public Health Disaster." The article was quickly reprinted in Scientific American and elsewhere.

The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health’s statement on Paris was frequently quoted in the news, with pieces in MedScape and at Health Central quoting MSCCH Director Dr. Mona Sarfaty, a member of Climate for Health’s Leadership Circle.  The group’s recent “Medical Alert! Climate Change Is Harming Our Health” report was featured in a story in the independent news site AlterNet, also quoting Dr. Sarfaty at length.  The consortium comprises the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and 10 other national organizations.

Major healthcare systems also released statements on the Paris pullout, leading the industry journal Modern Healthcare to publish a piece on the ways Virginia Mason Health System, Kaiser Permanente, Trinity Health, and Buffalo’s Catholic Health System are already addressing climate and environmental health issues at their facilities, and their deepened commitment to continue.

ecoAmerica President Bob Perkowitz presents at the ANHE's Climate Change, Health, and Nursing: A Call to Action conference
What We’re Doing

ecoAmerica, Climate for Health’s parent organization, has begun rolling out some initiatives that have been in the works, but just became all the more timely. As President Bob Perkowitz put it in ecoAmerica's latest newsletter, “We’re reassessing all our work to accelerate and amplify these commitments.”

For example, ecoAmerica is partnering with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project on a new leadership training program to help equip more health professionals to speak publicly about the medical impacts of climate change. Earlier this week, Perkowitz and CRP Climate Speakers Network Director Doug Glancy debuted a health and climate communications training module at the Association of Nurses for Healthy Environments “Climate Change, Health, and Nursing: A Call to Action” conference in Washington, D.C. 

At the second annual Climate Day LA June 27 in downtown Los Angeles, ecoAmerica and its event partners KCRW, Climate Resolve, FORM, and IHEARTCOMIX will present a free daytime conference rallying Angelenos from all sectors to discuss and celebrate local solutions to climate change. Mayor Eric Garcetti, climate philanthropist Tom Steyer, Blessed Tomorrow leader Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker and rising advocates will be among the panelists. Centered on the Path to Positive LA initiative, Climate Day LA will focus on building momentum  for change and will be capped off with a ticketed benefit gala featuring innovative musician Moby and a concert with top artists and DJs.

And at ecoAmerica’s American Climate Leadership Summit October 25-26 in Washington, D.C., ecoAmerica will hold a cross-sector forum that allows health leaders to network with leaders in faith, business, and other communities.  The forum is in keeping with the summit’s new theme, Taking Up the Mantle. The invitation-only event is designed to accelerate and diversity climate leadership, build capacity, and stimulate collaboration on solutions. Take a sneak peek at the updated agenda here.

We salute all of these initiatives and would love to hear what your organization is doing. If you’d like to contribute a blog about it, contact miranda@ecoamerica.org. If you need ideas, download our “Let’s Talk Climate and Health” guide. In the meantime, social media can be a useful organizing and promotional tool; suggested hashtags include #ActOnClimate, #LeadOnClimate, #ParisAgreement and #ClimateChangesHealth.

 

 

Miranda Spencer is a freelance writer and editor specializing in environmental issues. If you have comments, questions, ideas, or would like to submit a blog of your own, feel free to contact Tim Kelly at timk@ecoamerica.org.