It was September 17, 2023 and we are gathered together on a bright sunny day for the March to End Fossil Fuels. The timing was planned months in advance to coincide with the UN General
Assembly’s meeting in New York City, where the world leaders gather for their week of
discussions and debates. Marching just ten blocks from the UN, the message was clear. We
have a climate emergency and the world leaders are not serious about ending fossil fuel burning.
Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania was the lead organizer for the health
professional contingent of what would turn out to be the largest climate march in the US since
the last Washington DC Climate march in 2017. Health care represents a major source of
plastics and energy use which is contributing to climate change and we have a responsibility to
do our part to reduce our carbon footprint. Tonyehn Verkitus, our executive director and
Tammy Murphy, our advocacy director are standing at the corner of 53rd and 8th Ave where
health professionals appear out of nowhere in white coats and scrubs showing up to march.
The night before artists gathered to paint a massive banner “Protect Health, End Fossil Fuels”.
Tonyehn negotiated a prime position for our contingent near the front of the line sandwiched
between the labor and faith contingents. Our frontline position was fortunate because the
March itself with the tens of thousands of participants lasted more than three hours.
Todd Sack, MD and his wife attended. He is not only the national president of PSR,
but also the author of My Green Doctor, a how to guide for medical offices on how we can
reduce the carbon footprint in our own offices. I met Regina Larocque, MD, MPH, an infectious
disease doctor from Mass General Hospital who coauthored a NEJM article entitled, “Climate
Change – A Health Emergency”. I carry a sign with EB Fouts-Palmer, a pediatric anesthesiologist
in NYC. Behind me is Cornel West, Green Party presidential candidate marching with the faith
contingent. I later join my friends from the NY Metro chapter of Physicians for a National
Health Program who are there to support the March recognizing that our market based health
system is ill prepared to handle the overwhelming strain of extreme weather.
Climate change is so overwhelming that it is easy to fall into the funk of doing nothing.
Complacency is the very hope of the petroleum industry. Joining this March gave us a collective
way to express our outrage at our learned helplessness. All along the route there was a joy of
meeting people around the country united in a common purpose to send a message that
climate change is here and is an emergency. Lots of cameras and phones pulled out to capture
the enormity of our collective protest. Readers can watch a YouTube video of our many
reasons for marching.
It was all very empowering as we walked across town from 8th Ave. to 1st Ave. Ending around
49th St. We were just a few blocks north of the United Nations where President Biden and
other world leaders would soon gather for the General Assembly
Two weeks later, a tropical depression flooded the same streets of New York with water
pouring into the subway stations across the city. It was a sad and stark reminder of climate
change and exclamation point on why we need to end fossil fuel burning.