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media-related issues
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nanny state
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Lift your voices, do more to address the climate health crisis: senior medical leader urges colleagues

Doctors and other health professionals have a duty of care to escalate their efforts to tackle the health emergency of climate change, according to a senior medical leader.

In a rousing presentation this week, Laureate Professor Nick Talley, Editor-in-Chief of The Medical Journal of Australia, urged colleagues to lift their voices much louder in advocating for climate action.

“Every single one of us, every single medical practitioner, every health professional has a duty of care to be involved here,” he told a webinar on 9 August co-hosted by the Australian Medical Association and Doctors for the Environment Australia.

“Advocacy on climate change is something that many of us on this webinar feel strongly about,” he said, “but I would argue across the profession there remain very large sections who don’t see that as such an important problem, and I would argue that is something we need to change.

“It’s a great pity that climate change and the health impacts of climate change became politicised in this country and in some quarters is still politicised.”

Some of the presenters at the webinar. Professor Nick Talley top R.

Pointed question

Talley asked the 300-plus attendees, who included the Australian Government’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, to consider whether they and their professional organisations were doing enough to address the climate crisis.

“We know we can mitigate some of the bad outcomes that we all have talked about tonight but we are still overall going to see a significant worsening of health because of climate change in the coming decades,” he said. “It’s clear that no matter what we are doing now, we need to do more.”

Talley urged colleagues to step up to their responsibilities.

“We need to educate ourselves and our patients and our students,” he said.

“We need to grow research in the area…and we need to use our voices because our voices matter and doctors speaking out, they are listened to. It’s so important that occurs right across the sector and not just from part of the sector.”

Slide presented by Professor Nick Talley

Gloomy reading

With recent estimates suggesting the world may be facing two to three degrees of global warming, Talley warned that getting to net zero is “a great goal” but “will not be enough to overcome the issues we are going to face”.

The next edition of the MJA-Lancet Countdown, a report card of how we are doing on climate change and health, is due later this year and Talley said it would be “basically a fairly gloomy read, as you might expect”.

Talley said Australia had been described as a global hub for climate misinformation, and some media continued to publish ridiculous articles that misled and confused the public.

Efforts to reduce healthcare sector’s greenhouse gas emissions were patchy, he said. While some health services, including the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle where he works, were making great strides towards sustainability and net zero, other services were doing very little or nothing.

Slide presented by Professor Nick Talley

Collective action

Representatives of 11 medical colleges presented to the webinar on efforts they are making on climate action and advocacy, sharing many resources and toolkits.

While there is growing momentum, with some of the “biggest polluting specialties” taking ownership of the issues, as one participant observed, the webinar also made clear that so much more needs to be done, and that overall we remain very far from achieving the transformational changes required.

On a more positive note, the Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler’s presentation (reported here) shows that climate health reformers now have national political support from both a key Minister, as well as influential Independent MPs.

Following the webinar, the participating medical organisations released a communique expressing their collective support for:

  1. A net zero Australian healthcare system by 2040 with majority of emission cuts by 2030.
  2. The development of a national climate change and health strategy to facilitate planning for climate health impacts, which the Federal Government has committed to.
  3. Establishing a National Sustainable Healthcare Unit to support environmentally sustainable practice in healthcare and reduce the sector’s own emissions.
  4. Education of current and future doctors to: be well equipped to care for patients and populations impacted by the adverse health effects of climate change, and provide sustainable healthcare to support sector-wide emissions reduction.
  5. Collaboration on climate change mitigation strategies with populations most at risk of climate-related adverse health impacts, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Slide presented by Professor Nick Talley

Comments from Twitter

Tweet by emergency medicine physician Dr Simon Judkins

See Croakey’s extensive archive of articles on the climate health emergency.

 

 

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