He found that at least a quarter of the world’s illnesses are caused by environmental factors such as air pollution, water pollution, lack of sanitation and chemicals in the workplace. – all factors that could be controlled.
“Kirk led the world to better understand the disproportionate role of the environment in health, not least due to the burning of dirty household fuels, on which Kirk was the best scholar in the world”, Justin Remais, president of the division of environmental health sciences at the Berkeley School of Public Health, said in an email.
In addition to identifying the problems, Dr. Smith searched for solutions.
He initially thought the answer to household air pollution was better cooking stoves. But he realized that replacing old stoves with new ones would take decades, especially on a large scale, and many lives would be lost before such a transformation could take place.
Plus, he realized, the new stoves, at least the affordable ones, wouldn’t significantly improve health.
“He spent a lot of time reflecting on and learning from the experiences of the people he was trying to help,” said his daughter, Nadia Diamond-Smith, who works in maternal and reproductive health in India and the United Kingdom. Nepal, in an interview. He understood, she said, that if the new stoves were only slightly better, people wouldn’t use them, and only something with more obvious benefits would make a difference.
In a major pivot, unusual for such a prominent scientist, Dr Smith reset his focus and instead campaigned for cleaner fuels like liquefied petroleum gas or LPG.
In India, where 700 million people depended on the old stoves, he spent years collaborating with his colleagues and building relationships. He was ultimately able to help persuade local governments to make LPG more widely available.