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Mayer: Unhealthy Climate

Pediatrician and author Jack Mayer at a book talk at Siena College in 2012.
Chip Mayer, Courtesy

In 1983, ticks were exotic creatures in Enosburg Falls on the Canadian border where I practiced pediatrics. My 8-year-old patient presented with a flu-like illness and a bizarre rash. I’d seen photos in medical journals of this unique, giant bulls-eye rash that could only be Lyme Disease. But there was no Lyme Disease in Vermont.

That boy was the canary in the coalmine. By 1991 the Vermont Dept. of Health had identified 7 cases of Lyme statewide – in 2017 the number was 1,092 – the highest rate of Lyme in the nation.

A warming New England has enlarged the habitats of animals that are spreading diseases never before seen in Vermont: potentially fatal Anaplasmosis, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Babesiosis, Powassan virus, and West Nile Encephalitis.

In addition to disease outbreaks, the 2018 National Climate Assessment – the product of 13 federal agencies – warns that we can expect human health to be threatened by record wildfires, crop failures in the Midwest, crumbling infrastructure in the South, floods in the upper Midwest and Northeast, drought, food scarcity, heat waves and heat-related deaths, and rising sea levels.

The U.N.’s 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), urges a global commitment not just to reduce future emissions but to remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

Since I’m a physician, a scientist trained to be evidence based, I’ve seen and heard enough at this point to be convinced that waiting for government – especially at the Federal level – to take action is no longer an option. And I’ve joined a citizen group working with Middlebury’s Town Energy Committee and Selectboard to see what we can do locally about climate change.

This Town Meeting Day the citizens of Middlebury will vote on a Climate Solutions Resolution from 350VT that has been passed by 38 other Vermont Towns. This non-binding resolution encourages local elected leaders to adhere to the State of Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan to achieve 90% renewable energy by 2050 and town efforts to implement renewable energy strategies and conservation.

It’s doable. We dare not delay. And I, for one, would prefer not to diagnose any more strange diseases in Vermont.

Jack Mayer is a Vermont writer and pediatrician. From 1976 - 1986 he was a country doctor on the Canadian border bartering medical care for eggs, firewood, and knitted afghans. Dr. Mayer established Rainbow Pediatrics in Middlebury, Vermont in 1991 where he continues to practice primary care pediatrics. He was a participant at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2003 and 2005 (fiction) and 2008 (poetry). His first non-fiction book is Life In A Jar: The Irena Sendler Project. His latest novel, Before The Court Of Heaven, is inspired by the history of how Germany’s Weimar democracy became the Third Reich.
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