Climate outreach gone to the D.O.G.S.
By Alex Amonette
Dr. Rob Byron is an internal medicine physician. After serving in the Navy, he practiced his entire career in direct patient care in public health, mainly at the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Dr. Byron thinks that climate change is the most important issue of not just our generation, but of our species.
“The most immediate health risks are the increased number of heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory diseases that are a direct result of the air pollution that is causing climate change,” he said. “Over time, however, those numbers will pale compared to the number of people affected by crop failures, extreme weather events, and sea level change.”
“For years, I’ve counseled patients about medical issues that they may not be aware of, such as high blood pressure and smoking. But it dawned on me years ago that climate change is more important than all of those in terms of the number of people it will impact.” And Dr. Byron is not alone in his profession for thinking that climate change affects our health.
“Most of the major professional medical societies support climate change as being a significant and urgent health issue. This is particularly well laid out by the American College of Physicians, whose position paper was published earlier this year, and who calls it a public health emergency,” said Dr. Byron.
The Healthy Climate Solutions Tour
So, how does someone like Dr. Byron get the word out about this urgent issue? Last summer, he participated in Climate911’s “Healthy Climate Solutions Tour” that started in Minneapolis, MN on July 31 and ended in Louisiana, MO a month later. The tour, organized by Dr. Wendy Ring, helped educate people about solutions to climate change and to demonstrate a healthier lifestyle. Climate911 is a national and international network of health associations, representing doctors, nurses, and public health professionals who take action once a month to support healthy climate policy.
The concept of the tour was a musical puppet show called “Dozens of Good Solutions” (aka D.O.G.S.) in which two dogs, who are the stars of the show, teach their humans about ways to lead healthier lives and at the same time to address climate change. The show was created by Dr. Ring and appeals to people of all ages—watch it anytime on YouTube!
“We presented our show in libraries, churches, parks, any place that we could find in mostly small towns. It was very popular because it’s so engaging and fun,” Dr Bryon explained. “We were never challenged or confronted. Everyone seemed to like it, even those who did not agree but liked some of the points that were made. One of our most well-received shows was just one child and 18 to 20 adults, all of whom laughed the entire time. You could hear them verbally agreeing and saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that, but that’s a good point!’”
Dr. Ring is willing to share any parts of the show, including sound tracks and scripts, with anyone who wants to do it locally. Contact her here.
Dr. Byron’s prognosis
“I’m optimistic!” Dr. Byron said. “We have the potential to turn our situation around very quickly. I am hopeful that the public is becoming aware of the urgency of the situation. Organizations like Citizens’ Climate Lobby and others whose individuals have been working diligently to make people aware both locally as well as at the higher levels of government make me hopeful.”
He said, “My hopes are that the U.S. will start to take a leadership role in addressing climate change—one step of which would be to put a fee on carbon. And I would like to see us putting as much effort and resources into addressing climate change as we currently do into defense, since it is impacting our national security.”
“If we took the same approach to climate change that we took to World War II, we can mitigate it. Then, we proved that we could focus on a single goal and accomplish remarkable things in terms of industry, agriculture, and making the seemingly impossible happen. We can make a difference and prepare, if we set our minds to it.”
Dr. Byron and his wife, Lori, a pediatrician who also biked for climate and volunteers with CCL, worked for 20 years on the Crow Indian Reservation. He now works for St. Vincent’s Health Care in Billings and helped start the Big Horn Valley Health Center, a Community Health Center, in Hardin, MT.