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PSR Mourns the Loss of Paul Epstein

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on November 17, 2011

The PSR community has lost a pioneer, a champion, and an outstanding colleague in the field of climate change and public health. Paul Epstein, MD MPH, co-founder and co-director of Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, died early this week.

A physician and public health expert, Dr. Epstein was both a prolific researcher and a bellwether in his field. His copious academic research documented the many ways in which climate change poses a public health crisis, from infectious disease outbreaks to increases in seasonal allergies to coal pollution-induced asthma.  

In addition to his research, Epstein worked with government agencies including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to assess the health impacts of climate change.

He was also a paragon of health professional advocacy, repeatedly briefing Congressional staffers on both sides of the aisle on the implications of his work. He was committed to bringing science into policymaking, and passionate about the necessity, for the future of humanity, of making sure lawmakers understood the science of climate change and public health.

Dr. Epstein addressed PSR audiences and helped advance PSR’s mission in many settings. Here are highlights of some of his most recent collaborations with PSR:

  • In 2009, PSR’s New Mexico chapter asked Dr. Epstein to deliver testimony to the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board in support of a carbon cap. “His voice was very important,” remembered Dr. Michael McCally, former PSR executive director and New Mexico PSR activist. “He was the leading voice on this issue, the expert’s expert.” Although Dr. Epstein was too ill to deliver the testimony himself, the testimony helped convince the Board to approve the carbon cap for the state.
  • Also in 2009, Dr. Epstein was the keynote speaker at PSR’s national student conference in New York. His talk, addressing the health effects of climate change and the key role of health professionals in addressing this issue, was the highlight of the conference.
  • In 2010, Dr. Epstein served as expert reviewer of PSR’s report, Coal’s Assault on Human Health, providing invaluable insight and advice as we prepared this complex report for publication.
  • Just this year, I had the honor of co-authoring a commentary with Dr. Epstein for PSR’s Environmental Health Policy Institute on “The Costs of Coal.” He was an impassioned expert on this topic, having documented in various ways the true lifecycle costs of our reliance on coal.

According to a New York Times obituary,

 “His views provoked arguments. Within the politically contentious climate-change debate, it has been especially hard to prove direct links between climate events and the outbreak of disease. But Dr. Epstein’s prolific writing and his championing of others’ research broadened the terms of the debate — initially focused on long-term threats facing coastal populations and Arctic polar bears, for instance — to include questions about potentially sudden, unforeseeable public health catastrophes.”

We will miss this true friend of PSR, and the world will miss this true friend of humanity who worked so tirelessly to communicate the formidable dangers of climate change.


Kelly Orringer said ..

Paul helped open the eyes of this former medical student to the interplay of our environment on our, and our children's health. HMS has lost a great teacher!

November 17, 2011

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