August 29, 2013
(L to R) Dr. Jeff Gee (in hat), President, SF Physicians for a National Health Program; Patrice Sutton, SF Bay Area PSR member; Jacob DeMarco, grandson of SF Bay Area President Dr. Robert Gould; and Dr. Jeff Ritterman, Vice President, SF Bay Area PSR

(L to R) Dr. Jeff Gee (in hat), President, SF Physicians for a National Health Program; Patrice Sutton, SF Bay Area PSR member; Jacob DeMarco, grandson of Pat Sutton and Dr. Robert Gould; and Dr. Jeff Ritterman, Vice President, SF Bay Area PSR

By Dr. Jeff Ritterman, Vice President, SF Bay Area PSR

On August 3rd, an upbeat crowd of more than 2,000 people marched to the Chevron refinery in Richmond for “Summer Heat,” the Bay Area’s largest climate action this summer.  Dr. Robert Gould, SF Bay Area PSR President, and I led a delegation of members under the PSR banner.

Most marchers were holding a large sunflower, which was chosen as the event’s symbol because of the flower’s ability to absorb toxins, bringing attention to the toxic air pollution and greenhouse gases that the refinery emits. More than 200 people were arrested crossing the Chevron property line.

The event was family-friendly, with elders and children well represented, as well as unions and the mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin. The presence of a large group of nurses highlighted the connection between climate change and health.

“Summer Heat” was a very hopeful sign of the kind of partnerships that we have to create in order to build a sustainable future. What warmed my heart was the meshing together of the local activists who’ve been working on refinery pollution for more than 30 years with the greater climate change movement. The array of those present gave me a sense of hope. When you’re going up against a company like Chevron, you’re always aware of their formidable strength and power. In his keynote, Bill McKibben said, “All they have is money. We have everything else.” You could really feel this sentiment at the event: a sense of people coming together and their power as a whole.

Dr. Robert Gould, President, SF Bay Area PSR and grandson Jacob DeMarco

Dr. Robert Gould, President, SF Bay Area PSR with Jacob DeMarco, grandson of Dr. Gould and Patrice Sutton

What has become clear is that climate change, or perhaps more accurately climate chaos, is a looming global public health crisis, the likes of which we have never faced before. PSR is being drawn to similar conclusions that we reached around nuclear weapons: the only sensible response to the threat of climate change is a robust prevention strategy.

The fossil fuel industry is betting that no one will stop them from refining every last drop of crude oil.  If they do so they will guarantee us all a future of food and water shortages, extreme weather events, mass species extinction and new infectious disease epidemics.

Summer Heat was only a start.  If we want a healthy and sustainable future for those who come after us, we need to transition away from fossil fuels as soon as we can. The stakes could not be higher.  Our role in articulating climate change as a public health crisis could not be more crucial.