Doctoring climate change

Physicians Network

Dr. Ashley McClure is not shy about pursuing her passions. Her travels to Latin America inspired her to learn Spanish, and now her practice includes Spanish-speaking clinics. As an internal medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente in California, her passion for acting on climate change has driven her to become a tour de force, inspiring physicians to learn about and take action for climate solutions.

In April 2019, McClure held a grand rounds, “Doctoring climate change: What to know and what to do,” at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center to an overflow audience of more than 100 people, primarily physicians. Explaining climate change projections from the United Nations and United States 2018 climate reports, she told participants “the health benefits of reducing emissions could save hundreds of billions of dollars ($100,000,000,000) each year by the end of the century. I had to write down all those zeros to see it!”

McClure discussed the many health impacts of climate change, focusing on recent wildfires and flooding in California. Referring to the poor air quality in the Bay Area during the 2018 wildfires, she said “that awful, unhealthy air gives me so much motivation to do everything in our power to shift away from fossil fuels and act on climate change.”

After highlighting Kaiser Permanente’s goals of being carbon neutral by 2020 and carbon net positive by 2025, she focused on ways physicians can get involved: joining the new green team she is starting, wearing “climate changes health” pins (which she made herself) to spark conversations, and engaging in advocacy. She emphasized how important it is for physicians to use their respected voices to influence climate policy.

McClure concluded her presentation with her dream retirement speech in 2046: “I can retire in proud peace, having been part of the medical group whose visionary physician voice helped seize the opportunity to turn the emissions tide, back in 2020, by helping our patients and communities understand climate change as an urgent public health issue and to frame climate change legislation, like carbon pricing, as urgent public health policy that led to action.”

McClure will also present grand rounds at two other Kaiser Permanente locations, write a biweekly “climate changes health” newsletter for her colleagues, and work with the more than 20 people who have since joined her Oakland green team. In the fall, she will begin a new series of grand rounds, “Air quality: Managing upstream and downstream,” with presentations from a Kaiser Permanente pulmonologist, their national environmental program Leader, and Health Care Without Harm.