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March to End Fossil Fuels

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.

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