Australian doctors declare a climate emergency

Excerpt of photo by Sebastiaan Jansen-Munday. See original on Facebook

Doctors from across Australia gathered on 6 April 2019 in Hobart to declare a climate emergency.

The medical doctors, from various specialisations, called on Australia’s federal and state governments and councils to adequately respond to the climate chaos we are experiencing. They stated that anything less on the part of governments amounts to negligence.

“Declaring a Climate Emergency calls on governments at all levels to undertake an urgent re-evaluation of priorities, ending destructive, self-harming practices and pursuing actions that promote health and wellbeing for all. Doctors have a duty to care for human health and to alleviate suffering. We cannot be silent and watch governments continue to dismiss the threat posed by climate change and unhealthy environments to the health of their people.”
~ Dr Kristine Barnde, iDEA conference co-organiser and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia

Doctors in scrubs, surgical masks and stethoscopes gathered to issue the climate emergency declaration on 6 April 2019 at the Menzies Research Institute in Hobart. They had come together in Hobart to attend Doctors for the Environment Australia’s annual conference iDEA Conference 2019, which this year had the theme ‘Keeping The Lights On’, aiming to “empower medical professionals and medical students from across Australia and beyond to skill up, get motivated and to address the biggest challenge and opportunity facing doctors today — the human health impacts of the environment and climate change.”

> Watch presentations from the iDEA Conference 2019

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) is an independent organisation of medical doctors protecting health through care of the environment. They are supported by a Nobel laureate, recipients of the Australia of the Year award, and other health experts.


Appalled and frightened

“Doctors are appalled and frightened by the ongoing refusal of politicians to take necessary action.”
~ Dr Kristine Barnde, iDEA conference co-organiser and a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia

Conference co-organiser and DEA member Dr Kristine Barnden said, “Climate change is killing people and children are one of the groups most at risk. There is no time for games, and DEA is running a campaign urging health professionals to speak out on action on climate to protect our children now and into the future.”

“Knowing that climate change constitutes a public health crisis, knowing that solutions are available, knowing that we only have a short time to act to prevent run away climate change, doctors are appalled and frightened by the ongoing refusal of politicians to take necessary action. We must recognise climate change for the emergency that it is.”

Barnden noted that the change in the climate due to greenhouse gas emissions is accelerating, bringing with it more frequent and severe extreme weather events, an increase in infectious diseases, allergic and respiratory diseases, and the risk of global food shortages.

In a media release, the medical group quoted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has stated that, “If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.”

“We are familiar with dealing with emergencies and know that disaster can be averted when emergencies are recognised early, and when the response is prompt. We know that pretending an emergency isn’t happening, or giving inappropriate or inadequate treatment, can only end in disaster. Human impact on the planet is now threatening the life support systems that we all depend on. Multiple scientific studies show a decline in many critical areas, such as biodiversity loss and declining fresh water availability on which our health and survival depends.”

> Doctors for the Environment Australia media release – 3 March 2019:
Doctors declare a climate emergency and call on governments to support the move



Climate change policy in Australia is costing lives

The Medical Journal of Australia has said inaction on climate change policy in Australia is costing lives:

“We find that Australia is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on health, and that policy inaction in this regard threatens Australian lives. In a number of respects, Australia has gone backwards and now lags behind other high income countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Examples include the persistence of a very high carbon-intensive energy system in Australia, and its slow transition to renewables and low carbon electricity generation.”

> Medical Journal of Australia – 29 November 2018
The MJA–Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: Australian policy inaction threatens lives


Australia’s health system unprepared for climate change

Australia is unprepared for coming health emergencies caused by global warming disasters, public health experts have warned.

From floods to heatwaves, droughts, cyclones and bushfires, the “frequency, intensity, and duration” of natural disasters in Australia is increasing, and our health systems are struggling to cope, three leading public health experts said.

While Australia is geophysically stable and protected “to some extent” from “catastrophic events” such as earthquakes and tsunamis, we are vulnerable to “climate-related disasters and emergencies”, the researchers wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia.

> The New Daily – 15 April 2019:
Australia’s health system unprepared for climate change, experts warn

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This article was also published on on 6 April 2019.