21 June 2016

Doctors urged to rally over health impacts of climate change

Global Health TheHill

 

Celebrated epidemiologist Professor Fiona Stanley is asking medical colleagues to use their influence to fight climate change on health grounds.

The 2003 Australian of the Year this week wrote to all major-party candidates in the 2 July election calling for their responses on four key proposals to avoid the devastating impacts of unsustainable environmental practices.

“I am anguished because this isn’t more on the agenda in this election,” Professor Stanley told The Medical Republic in an interview.

“I know there is an increasing proportion of Australians who are worried about it.  But the time (to act) is now.  We need it now. This is the critical decade.”

Professor Stanley, known for her work in child and maternal health and for making the link between folate levels and spina bifida, likened inaction on climate to a failure to address the causes of disease.

“If you look at everything that is affecting our society now, we are intervening too late, too little, in irreversible pathways,” she said, giving the example of renal disease among indigenous people.

“We put renal dialysis in Aboriginal communities, and I strongly support it.  It’s not going to reduce renal disease; it’s going to increase it as you are keeping people alive. But why not look at what’s causing renal disease and put your money there?

“My anguish is that people do not seem to understand that the best way to handle these myriad problems is to look at why they are happening and intervene much earlier.”

Professor Stanley, said doctors were already seeing impacts from global warming in medical practice and would see more in the future.

“To the medical profession, I want to say:  You are powerful, and you are going to have to cope with the health effects of the changes to our environment such as heatwaves and extreme weather conditions.”

As a priority, doctors should use their clout to lobby for a phasing out of fossil fuels with a shift to renewable energy, she said. Next, they should advocate for a national strategy for adaptation and mitigation of climate-change effects.

“In a way, I wish they didn’t call it climate change.  Climate change is one outcome of the way we are living on the planet in an unsustainable way,” she said.

Professor Stanley said she found it frustrating to see threats to health go unaddressed because policy makers were stuck in an old mindset regarding fossil fuels and unsustainable practices.

So far, her letter has had support from Greens candidates, independents and smaller parties, but no replies from the Coalition and only a few from Labor.  The responses will be circulated to the AMA and other medical groups.

The letter asks politicians to support the “no” case for new coal mines and mine expansions, and the removal of tax rebates worth more than $7 billion for fossil fuel industries, saying the rebates are the equivalent of subsidising tobacco.

It also seeks support for a transition to renewable energy sources.

“Coal is enormously damaging, but we never count the costs of the health effects and the other effects of coal mining,” Professor Stanley said.“We don’t want to do people out of jobs – and do India out of power – we want to leapfrog into what is now extremely cost-effective renewable energy.”

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gary smith
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4 years 4 months ago

Australian Doctors for the Environment held a recent conference on this and share what the average GP can do, the recordings are on youtube https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4rG0bPYa-FzodiYNU8FFYYdKpgeZ41ri

Adele Thomas
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Adele Thomas
4 years 4 months ago

Time to leave this left-wing rag.

Joe Kosterich
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

“Coal is enormously damaging” . Especially to those in the third world who lack electricity! Cold weather is far more deleterious to health than warm weather. Time for chicken little to note that the sky is not falling and the earth is not “catastrophically” warming.

George Crisp
Guest
George Crisp
4 years 4 months ago

Secondly, climate change is not “an opinion”. it is science fact. You cannot declare it isn’t happening; every science agency on the planets tells us that it is. The role for Doctors is to make sense of it’s impacts, just like we do with smoking or immunisation, and relay them to the public.

George Crisp
Guest
George Crisp
4 years 4 months ago

There is a wealth of published literature detailing the negative health impacts of coal. Economists have calculated to social costs and found coal to be prohibitively expensive once air pollution and other pollution is factored in. It is quite clear there are cost-competitive healthier solutions to energy generation which also have the advantage that they do not require expensive state funding infrastructure and don;t use massive quantities of water in water stressed areas (e.g.Africa and India).
(gladly supply references on request).

George Crisp
Guest
George Crisp
4 years 4 months ago

There is plenty of published work by both medical researchers and economists showing that coal is uneconomic due to it’s health and environmental externality costs. Plus renewable energy is now cost competitive even without accounting for it’s air pollution etc.

There is consensus among scientists about climate scientists about the nature of climate change, just as there is consensus in public health about it’s potential impacts on our health.

You sound pretty shrill and ridiculous to say otherwise

Joe Kosterich
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

“Shrill and ridiculous”- you might want to consider buying a mirror.

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