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Amid dire global climate warnings, voters in lutruwita/Tasmania are urged to support climate action

Introduction by Croakey: Just days before the election in lutruwita/Tasmania, the World Meteorological Organization released its latest annual report on the state of the global climate, confirming that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with “heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires, and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones [that] caused misery and mayhem, upending everyday life for millions and inflicting many billions of dollars in economic losses”.

Also this week, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, wrote a powerful article warning that the threats to health from climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss are not hypothetical risks in the future, “but are right here and right now, which makes health the most compelling reason for climate action”.

His article also underscored our interconnectedness, citing Martin Luther King: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

Thus the election outcome on this island will have repercussions for others elsewhere. And while health has been one of the big issues during the election campaign, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the climate crisis and its implications for health and healthcare, although other, related environmental issues, such as native forest logging and salmon farms, have been to the fore.

Meanwhile, Dr Clare Smith, a climate health advocate, GP and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia and other groups, explains below why she is urging voters to put climate action first.


Clare Smith writes:

Most Australians have now been directly affected by a climate-change fueled natural disaster, according to a major survey, and most want more action.

In 2021, the biggest climate poll ever conducted asked this question: Of what importance is climate change as an election issue? The answer: ‘Voters in every federal seat in Australia support increased action on climate change and the adoption of renewable technology’ and 67 percent of voters believed the government should be doing more to address climate change.

Nothing is better now than it was then – 2023 was the hottest year on record, the earth is still scorching and the sea is, relatively, boiling.

We all are affected by the climate crisis. So why is climate change so totally invisible in the Tasmanian election?

I worked through 90 separate Liberal policy documents on everything you can think of from buses to housing, mental health, farming, salmon, forestry, deer shooting, childcare, roads and bridges and so on and on, looking for a mention of ‘climate’ and apparently here in Tasmania we do not have to consider it at all – there is not one single mention I could find. Certainly no admission that the way the much-promoted claim to be at ‘Net Zero’ has depended on the combination of hydroelectricity and NOT cutting down trees.

Labor uses the word ‘climate’ at least seven times though only on its page on ‘Climate, parks and environment’ but it refers mainly to activities already contained, and mostly already in process, in the current Climate Action Plan, legislated in 2022. I can’t find the word ‘climate’ mentioned on any of the other 49 policy pages. Even discussion on renewables does not reference it.

Neither party has committed to continued funding of the excellent Curious Climate Schools program now also embedding mental health resources, or the Tasmanian Youth Climate Leaders program, now in its last year of funding, which would be the very smallest dollop of hope.

On the big and pressing issues related to climate change – they are not addressed at all. Not at all – it is apparently business as usual and exploiting nature is still free.

Health impacts

Meanwhile, we have nine-year-olds asking what is the point of growing up to see the world die around them, and young adults deciding it would be irresponsible to bring another child into the world. These are both actual discussions I have had in suburban Tasmanian general practice, amongst many more, and it is heart-breaking to hear.

This is not just a personal experience – recent research confirms a strong link between concerns about the climate and psychological distress in Australian youth. Eco-distress is a significant overlay on top of all the other more familiar sources of stress. Children are aware of the problems, have strong feelings and want to see more action.

These tough issues come into general practice and psychology consulting rooms (if you can get an appointment and pay for it) far too frequently. I have spoken to school teachers who don’t even want to raise the subject of climate change because they don’t have the tools to deal with those worries even as they share the concerns. Optimism without seeing strong political leadership taking the radical decisions we need for a safer future is increasingly hard for me to find, let alone convey. So what are our Tasmanian leaders saying?

Looking to our Liberal and Labor political leaders, apparently ignoring it will make it go away.

Meanwhile the Jackie Lambie Network hasn’t announced any policies, though past voting records are not encouraging, and it has not answered any questionnaires on the topic of climate change, such as that constructed by the Tasmanian Climate Collective for their climate scorecard.

Fortunately there is some good news. The Greens continue to show strong leadership, and encouraging statements are coming from many of the independent candidates that have scrambled into action, despite the election being called so early and quickly.

One initiative is the Climate Rescue Accord which aims to shift the state’s approach to a safer climate, with 11 candidates signed up. Another is the 57 independent and minor party candidates who have signed a pledge to end native forest logging in Australia.

So why aren’t the leaders who want us to trust them – and only them – to lead us into the future addressing the greatest threat to our very survival right here and right now?

Climate change presents a fundamental threat to human health – so says the World Health Organization. A climate emergency has been declared by the Australian Medical Association (State and Federal) and Doctors for the Environment Australia among others.

Cost of living and food security is a climate emergency. Farmers explained this to the Federal parliamentary enquiry into strengthening and safeguarding Australia’s food security last year, detailing difficulties in growing, harvesting and transporting food in the midst of climate pressures. Remember the $11 lettuce?

Floods, fires, storms, heat waves, drought, sea level rise are all climate change fueled, and all are happening right here and now.

Insurance costs at every address in Tasmania is a climate change emergency that is going to fall hardest (again) on our poorest, who are likely to live in more vulnerable properties without the resources to cope, adapt or recover.

Every bit of damage across the country impacts us all, either via our premiums or by taking government resources required for the growing number of those who cannot get insurance or who cannot afford any or enough insurance. It is hardly rocket science as one expensive disaster after another marches across our screens to recognise that all this is a growing challenge – or that we need, really really need, more action on the climate change that is escalating all this.

Pressures fall hardest on the poorest, and Tasmania has the most distributed population and the highest proportion of people living in the most disadvantaged areas (37 percent) and climate change inequalities are no exception. As doctors, we know about the socioeconomic barriers to health. It is impossible to manage diabetes or any other illness living in a car, in a mouldy house, during a heat wave or a storm and so on.

Native forests are a climate opportunity. The science is not in doubt. Logging native forests removes carbon and destroys habitats, increases fire risks, creates few jobs (less than one percent including across all wood product and paper manufacturing industries ) and is heavily subsidsed.

Census figures show just 885 people worked in all forestry and logging, including the largest sector of plantation logging, yet it is our biggest emitter. Emissions have to come down everywhere, and in Tasmania that should mean ending native forest logging.

Voting wisely is the very best thing any of us can do for our future safety.

I want my grandchildren, my family and friends and all those many patients I have spent decades supporting as a GP to know I did everything, really everything, I could in this fight. Right now, that means putting climate action first as we vote.

Author details

Dr Clare Smith was born in Tanzania, arrested on the Franklin blockade as a medical student and is a member of Doctors for the Environment, AMA Tas, the Climate Collective and many other climate and social action groups, and has worked in general practice in Kingston for over 30 years. She worked with the AMA to get Health included in the Tasmanian Climate Change Act and is the only health voice in the reference group advising the Minister on Climate Change. With a strong interest in mental health, particularly in adolescents, she is contributing to the Curious Climate Schools program and having retired in 2021 now volunteers in her grandchildren’s primary school.


More from X/Twitter

https://voteforpublichealth.com/tas-scorecard/

Front pages of The Mercury, 20 and 21 March, 2024

Also see analysis at ABC: Five battles to watch in the 2024 Tasmanian state election as parties push for majority rule


See previous Croakey coverage of the 2024 election in lutruwita/Tasmania and see related content at #TasVotesHealth2024