Retired physician Barbara Warren says it's taken the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility a year to plan the Climate Smart Southwest conference developed to address public health impacts of climate change in the Southwest. The conference kicks off on Friday, Sept. 20 in the Unisource building conference room, 88 E. Broadway Blvd., with Eric Klinenberg, author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, from 7 to 8 p.m., which is free. It continues Saturday, Sept. 21, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Tucson Convention Center. Registration is $35 ($15 for current students) and includes a free buffet lunch and free on-site parking at the TCC. For more info, visit www.psr.org/chapters/arizona/climate-smart-southwest.
Tell me about the local chapter of PSR.
We've actually been on and off for a little while since 1983. We worked in the early days more on nuclear weapons disarmament. ... Now we're looking more at issues that affect the health of those on our planet.
This conference focuses on the Southwest.
Yes, we're looking at the regional impact of the planet changes. The conference is organized around those regional issues and our speakers will be addressing the Southwest. We won't be talking about sea-level rise. We're focusing on the desert Southwest.
Is it hard to get physicians involved in something that might be considered too political?
There's been about 30,000 members nationally but I have to admit yes. We have many nurses and public health people but also people of the public at large who are members. There are lot of physicians who are involved, but it is hard to recruit people from the day to day establishment of physicians in the community. They are pretty overwhelmed with the work they have to do, especially in primary care.
Why take a year to plan out this conference?
It's a huge amount of work. The first part was obviously developing prospectus on what we wanted to do and getting people together to help make this happen. There's about a dozen who have come together to do just that. Once we had the team we had to go and find support at organizational meetings, city council people, board of supervisors and all the departments in the county and reaching out to national organizations. We've managed to garner support from 43 co-sponsors and six are national environmental organizations—like Earth Justice and Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and the Center for Biological Diversity.
What happens at the end of the conference?
We decided we really wanted to begin to develop strategies within those various areas the conference focuses on and create strategies for building community resilience—take that to a meeting after the conference to say, "Where do we go from there?" We feel it is really very important to not wait for our national or local government to solve our problems for us but take responsibility for ourselves and be active in addressing climate change.
What in the conference are you particularly excited about?
Eric Klinenberg who is speaking Friday night. That part of the conference is free. He's an NYU sociology professor who has done a lot of writing and talking about what happens during climate disasters. What are the weak points in our communities that need more help? In the morning we'll have a plenary session with a number of speakers on public health and the Southwest. There will also be a panel of people talking about cross-culture and cross-border issues. Irasema Coronado who is the executive director of the Commission on Environmental Cooperation in Quebec will be there. She's from Nogales. We'll also have a working lunch with the Center for Biological Diversity and the World Wildlife Fund on what to do to be politically active to make change.
What do you want to see happen on a local level?
We've gotten two resolutions already from the county supervisors and city council in support of the project. They understand what needs to be done and they understand they can't do it by themselves. It takes the community to build your own safety nets. I've realized how ill prepared our disaster preparedness people are in terms of dealing with any major climate disaster. If our electricity went down we'd be in deep trouble. We'd have no water because it's pumped from the Colorado River using electricity. In heat we'd have no place to go.