‘Climate change is a health crisis’

“Democracy Now,” Sept. 21, 2014

Philip Swift

The following is an unofficial transcript of an interview that Dr. Oliver Fein, chair of the New York Metro chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, and Katie Robbins, executive director of the chapter, gave to Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” at the huge Climate Justice March in New York City on Sept. 21, 2014. The video of this interview begins at the 54-minute mark at this link. Other PNHP activists, including Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. Steve Auerbach, were also interviewed at the march.

Amy Goodman: You can see people from all over the world are here. I see right now that Dr. Oliver Fein is in the crowd. Let’s see if he can join us as well as Katie Robbins. They are with Physicians for a National Health Program. So, is our doctor worried?

Oliver Fein: Very worried about the effect of climate change on my patients, on their families, on you and me, frankly. You know, there’s going to be a major health impact.

AG: What is this impact?

OF: Well, there are a variety of examples. For instance, when the temperature rises, the ozone level at the ground level actually goes up and that stimulates asthma in children, in adults, in the elderly. When temperatures go up, more people in fact will suffer heat stroke. It is estimated that by 2050, we will have 70 percent more deaths from heat-related events than we have today. And the rainfall, when temperatures go up, becomes in fact much heavier, leading to flooding, and flooding frequently leads to the contamination of drinking water, so there will be water-borne salmonella infections. So all these things are going to impact us, but, interestingly, most profoundly, probably people with low resources – poor people, African Americans, Latinos. So that’s why I think that climate change justice goes along with health care justice.

AG:  Katie Robbins, how did you get involved with this issue? You’re a health care professional?

Katie Robbins: Yes, I have a master’s in public health and I think it’s so important that people realize how personal this issue really is. It’s not just about polar bears, but the health impacts of climate change are going to affect future generations if we don’t do things now, when we have the opportunity. This is very personal to me. I am expecting my first kid in a few months and …

AG: Congratulations.

KR: Thank you. Reports from UNICEF show that children are going to be most heavily impacted by climate change, and that has to do with the kind of health issues that Dr. Fein raised – asthma, and so on – but also food insecurity in many parts of the world and the effects of extreme weather, which lead to floods and displacement. So now is the time to act before these problems [get much worse]

AG: What does your sign say?

KR: It says “Climate change is a health crisis.”

AG: Interesting. You have many organizations at the bottom of this sign. Name them.

KR: We’ve been working on building the health contingent for this march. So we have National Nurses United, the New York City Nurses Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, ACT-UP, Climate 911, and many unions as well.

AG: It’s interesting that you mention unions. Thousands of union members are rallying at 58th Street and are going to join this march. Now Dr. Fein, what kind of doctor are you?

OF: I’m an internal medicine/general medicine physician.

AG: How common is it for doctors to see climate change as a health issue?

OF: I think it’s not that common these days, but it’s increasingly an issue that I think more and more physicians are going to rally behind. But, it requires major system change, just as, for instance, single-payer national health insurance, what I advocate for, requires major system change.

AG: How are they connected, single payer and climate change?

OF: Well, because I think we need a mass movement to deal with climate change, and I think we also probably need a mass movement in terms of single-payer national health insurance.

AG: I want to thank you both for being with us, Dr. Oliver Fein and Katie Robbins, who are holding a sign that says, “Climate change is a health crisis.” I know you want to rejoin your contingent.