Health · Politics

A New Year and A New Decade:
Finding Hope With Change

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

The New Year is often the time when people resolve to lose weight, stop drinking, or give up other habits considered unhealthy. Perhaps at the dawn of this new decade, many may want to evaluate their lives in a more profound way: How they are living, what really matters, how they can make a difference. My resolutions for this year and the new decade are:

  1. Change personal behaviors that impact the climate.
  2. Research and purchase, whenever possible, all products and goods produced by companies that have sound environmental policies.
  3. Support public initiatives and leaders who have plans and policies that will affect climate change in order to find hope for the future of our planet.
  4. Focus more on civic involvement.

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, I came of age as an activist. I learned at the University of Louisville, from the students and professors who were much more liberal and evolved politically than I was, that the conservative environment of my rural upbringing had not prepared me to think critically about the important issues that affected all citizens. Earth Day was my initiation into active civic and political life. Founded by the United States Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day was meant to be a national environmental teach-in. However, this was the time when students and young adults believed that activism also involved public expression in the form of visibly supporting causes with marches.  I was one of many students and concerned citizens that day in Louisville, Kentucky, who attended “teach-ins” and marched to demonstrate concern and support for environmental issues and policies. I learned that the planet’s future depended on population control, safer forms of energy, preservation of clean water, protecting the air from pollution and environmental policy at the national and global levels.

I marched, presciently, as the Grim Reaper, hiding within the shadows of my cloak and carrying a scythe. A local television reporter asked about my choice of costume. I explained that the Grim Reaper represents the things we can’t see that frighten us as much as the things we can see. (Certainly, we could not know at that time what we know now.) Following that hopeful first Earth Day, important legislative action occurred, from the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

After this first exposure of working with others for change, I worked to register voters in the West End of Louisville for the next eighteen months as part of my activism turned into action. I was one of the student founders of a voter registration drive to register voters in the West End of Louisville when Mitch McConnel was running Wendal Ford’s gubernatorial campaign in 1970 and 1971. I badly needed financial support from the Independent, Democratic and Republican candidates that year in order to make real inroads in this registration project. McConnel was the only one of the three who refused to provide financial support. I still remember our first and only meeting when he said, “Now, Miss Yarberry, why would Mr. Ford want to give you money to register voters who aren’t going to vote for him?” I learned quickly that political life was certainly complex.

It has been fifty years since Earth Day’s entry onto the global stage. What I can’t understand now, is what happened to that activist girl? How did she become consumed with her education, medical training, medical practice, having a family and living a good life? How could she forget that all actions have consequences? I am registered to vote, I do vote, I support political candidates who care about the issues that affect all citizens. But, I have too often “talked the talk and not walked the walk” to save the planet.

This summer I attended a Conversation On the Green event in the Connecticut county where I live, which showcased David Walls-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, A Story of the Future and presidential candidate and Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, on the subject of climate change. Governor Inslee is recognized nationally for his progressive environmental policies. Walls-Wells is 36 years old and a gifted and passionate speaker who has written the most alarming book I have ever read, in which he presents the scientific evidence that supports the horrors that we will face as the world’s temperature increases. Many of those climate-induced catastrophes are already present: runaway wildfires across the globe, historically high floodwaters, unprecedented strong hurricanes, droughts that wipe out thousands of square miles of crops, and air pollution that makes breathing hazardous in more and more major cities. Every year a number of species are becoming extinct and scientists believe that this process will only accelerate.

At the conclusion of the conversation between Governor Inslee and Walls-Wells, a member of the audience asked, “What should I do to make a difference?” The truth is everyone in that audience wanted to do something to stop this process. “You can do nothing,” he said. “But, I have been recycling for years,” she responded. “We are beyond the point where small personal efforts will affect the global outcome,” he responded. “The only hope for managing the effects of climate change will be sweeping policy change.”

I understand that many believe that only global public policy can affect the real progress of climate change, however, I believe that each of us can change many behaviors that will affect the environment and the future of our planet. Perhaps you will consider looking at behaviors in your life that can be changed such as giving up single-use plastic containers, walking instead of driving when possible, taking public transportation instead of driving alone in your car or keeping the thermostat at a more climate positive level. You may also want to learn about the policies of all candidates for all offices in which you have a vote. You may consider supporting the candidates who have plans and policies to slow down climate change, which will give the children of today a better chance for a future tomorrow.

Senator Adlai Ewing Stevenson famously said, “We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.”

I wish all of our readers at a very healthy and productive New Year.  The board of Women’s Voices for Change joins me as we send our gratitude for your support as we continue into our 15th year of redefining change.

Dr. Pat

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