six women seated on stageNearly 200 organizations representing medical, health care and public and environmental health professionals, including APHA, have so far endorsed the 2019 U.S. Call to Action on Climate Change, Health and Equity: A Policy Agenda.

It challenges government, business, civil society and the health sector to recognize climate change as a public health emergency and to act now for climate, health and equity. 

“Being health professionals, it’s important for us to realize that our planet is our patient, and it’s in the intensive care unit. We’re doctors to a dying planet and we have a job to do,” said Helen Caldicott, MD, keynote speaker at yesterday’s Physicians for Social Responsibility Visionary Leaders Symposium in Washington, D.C. 

A PSR founder and former president, anti-nuclear activist, author and pediatrician from Australia, Caldicott has spent her life educating world leaders and the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age. She urged those gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building for the symposium to “stop being polite and speak the truth loudly and clearly” about the need for action on climate change. As one of the drafters of the U.S. Call to Action, PSR is using it to mobilize and give voice to more health professionals.

It advocates for policies that promote a just transition to clean, safe renewable energy and energy efficiency; sustainable food production and diets; clean water; active transportation; and green cities. Such policies can lower climate pollution, reduce the incidence of communicable and non-communicable disease, improve mental health and realize significant cost savings in health care. 

“I’m not being radical. I’m being a physician,” Caldicott said as she stressed the urgency of the situation; challenged attendees to question the role of politicians, corporations and the military in the production of greenhouse gases; and told everyone to contact members of Congress. “If you don’t use your democracy, they’ll swoop in and use it for you — for their own political and financial gain,” she said.

The U.S. Call to Action urges the health sector itself to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and — as a trusted voice — to effectively communicate the health threats of climate change and the health benefits of climate action. The symposium focused specifically on the role of women in the climate, health and equity movement and the importance of economic justice for the most vulnerable communities.

Heidi Hutner, PhD, a filmmaker, writer and professor at Stony Brook University, moderated an expert panel of women advocates discussing the health hazards of and solutions to nuclear power and climate change. Hutner opened the program with a trailer of her upcoming documentary about the women of Three Mile Island and, along with the other participants, questioned nuclear power as the answer for a just transition to clean energy.

Panel consensus was that highlighting the human side of the issue — within a larger social justice frame that includes women, people of color and the communities most affected — will help people “own the power they already have” to make change happen "one relationship at time." 

Following the symposium, at the 2019 Visionary Leadership Awards, PSR presented Caldicott with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work. It also recognized other individuals and organizations for their efforts in advancing nuclear weapons abolition and addressing environmental risks to human health, including the consequences of climate change.

Photo (left to right): Panelists Kelly Campbell, executive director of Oregon PSR; Lindsay Harper, executive director of Georgia WAND Education Fund, Inc.; Catherine Killough, advocacy and leadership coordinator at Women Cross DMZ; Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP's Environmental and Climate Justice Program; moderator Heidi Hutner, filmmaker and professor at Stony Brook University; and keynote speaker Helen Caldicott, former PSR president, anti-nuclear activist and pediatrician.