Caring for Ourselves is Caring for Our Earth

Gary Cohen

Dr. Georgia Milan is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work on the front lines to protect public health in a changing climate.

Last year, after 30 years as a family doctor, I decided to leave my clinical practice to focus on global health issues.  I determined that the most significant public health threat of our time is climate change.

In some places, we are already seeing a rise in the number and intensity of floods, forest fires and other natural disasters.  Infectious diseases are changing in response to changing climate patterns.  Extreme weather events are threatening our food and water supplies.  As ecosystems adjust to these changes, we are seeing more species face the threat of extinction.  Air quality threats such as ozone pollution, commonly known as smog, are becoming harder to address, which can lead to increased disease levels and premature deaths.  These problems are projected to get worse as our climate continues to warm.

Through my humanitarian work in other countries and as a physician with the Indian Health Service, I have seen the interdependence of people with the natural world and how much knowledge and appreciation of this is being lost in our modernized societies.  It seems we have even forgotten our responsibility to future generations.  But challenges linked to climate change are reinforcing how changes in the environment put our health and our children’s future in jeopardy.

It is clear to me that people need to hear from their doctors and the medical community about the potential human health impacts of climate change . 

In Montana, we are discussing health impacts of climate change in a variety of forums.  I work with a team that presents the annual “Turning the Tide” conference at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula, which focuses on the connections between spirituality, science and health.  This year, the topic was climate change and the event, “Reclaiming Human Health by Restoring the Planet,” included panels featuring spiritual leaders, climate experts and health professionals.  The community participates through working groups to look at solutions to critical challenges.

People in Montana are starting to understand these challenges and seek out information from health professionals so they can make better decisions about projects like the proposed Otter Creek Mine and the Tongue River Railroad which would expand coal mining, transportation, and exports from Montana to Asia.

I am excited about the opportunities presented by being a Champion for Change and look forward to exploring more ways to help spread the word about the importance of addressing climate change now, before the threat to our health worsens.

Dr. Georgia Milan is a Physician.

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