July 2021 Champion!
Claire Gervais, MD
Family medicine specialist in Madison, WI
No one alone can solve the climate crisis. But with the energy and support of a group, things are different.
“You need others, to work as a team,” says Dr. Claire Gervais. “When a number of people have the same passion, getting together with those people drives the agenda and your energy.”
As a family medicine physician with the UW Health Department of Family Medicine and Community Health in Madison, Wisconsin, she works in many arenas, including her health system, community pesticide management, and climate change. She was one of the creators in 2019 of Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action, an affiliate of the Medical Society Consortium.
Although she has long seen global warming as a crucial issue, Dr. Gervais grew into her activism, starting about 20 years ago with grassroots work literally at the level of roots of grass – working to curb the use of chemicals that can create health risks on local lawns. She’s founder and president of Healthy Lawn Team, based in Madison.
Dr. Gervais’s environmental activities include co-founding in 1995 the Mining Impact Coalition, which helped to prevent construction of a northeastern Wisconsin mine to extract metals. As she worked, she met many other activists, which led her to the 2019 annual meeting of the Medical Society Consortium, which then led to creation of Wisconsin Health Care Professionals for Climate Action.
“Number one is that climate change is the most pressing environmental issue for us as health professionals,” Dr. Gervais says. “I felt the calling to be involved because it is the most destructive to our health and our environment.”
Right now, Wisconsin is less-painfully damaged by the crisis, Dr. Gervais says. It has increasing heat waves, although not like the bake-in-place health emergency that the Pacific Northwest experienced. And it has flooding, although less than the health emergency that Houston had in 2017 because of Hurricane Harvey. But Wisconsin’s damage is still real, and its exposure rises as the climate crisis worsens, she notes.
Not all Wisconsinites are ready to listen, but Dr. Gervais says many are coming around. It helps, she says, to focus on the benefit that most interests them. For fiscal conservatives, for instance, she emphasizes the savings that come with sustainability.
“We can continue to feed them information about how this can be good for them,” Dr. Gervais says. “It can make a difference.”