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RACP under fire over “wimpy” stance on climate change

In recent days, Croakey has been checking out rumours of significant discontent with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians recent statement on climate change (it can be downloaded here).

Disappointment about the “wimpy” statement is being privately expressed both within and outside the College.

Unbeknownst to me, Tom Cowie at Crikey was doing likewise – and he beat me to the punch. Here is his story, ‘Incompetence’ at peak doctors’ body split by climate change’, from today’s bulletin about the resignation of the chair of the College climate change working group, Dr Tony Capon.

The press release was followed by a story in The Australian which began:

A CARBON tax could force the sick and underprivileged to stop taking their medicines and abandon health check-ups as they struggle to pay higher power bills, the body representing the nation’s 13,500 physicians has warned.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians says one of the results of the Gillard government’s proposed carbon tax could be an increase in chronic illness rates.

The College statement stresses the risk of action on climate change to the disadvantaged but neglects to mention that it is the world’s disadvantaged who are most likely to suffer harms as a result of climate change.

Many reports have made this point, including the Public Health Association of Australia’s climate change policy, which notes, for example, that Indigenous and rural and remote communities are likely to be particularly hard hit by climate change.

The RACP is happy to commit to “increased physical activity such as walking and cycling” as solutions for climate change, but “does not have a view on whether a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme is the preferred model for reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.

By contrast, the PHAA policy statement wants (amongst other things):

• an interim tax on carbon emissions to begin the process of change.

• a Central Carbon Bank (Garnaut 2007) to regulate carbon prices, and set strong scientifically defensible reduction targets and trajectory.

• use of a range of taxes, revenue from which to support other changes to lower carbon.

• removal of subsidies to fossil fuel energy and fossil fuel dependent transport sectors, including provision of specific infrastructure.

I’ve heard it said in recent days that the medical colleges generally prefer to confine themselves to clinical medicine, training and standards, and that they don’t tend to go much beyond paying lip service to social and environmental health issues.

No doubt the situation changes according to whom or which group is running the shop at any particular time. Presumably, there are going to be some rather interesting discussions within and outside the RACP in coming days.

Anyway, now the cat is out of the bag, we shall no doubt be hearing more about the politics of medicine, climate change and public health.

Comments 6

  1. Shooba says:

    The RACP’s priority is the health of Australians. They support action on climate change, but ask the govt to consider the health of disadvantaged Australians when setting a carbon price… and I’m supposed to have a problem with this?

    No, it seems the problem that Crikey/Croakey has is that there was not unanimous and absolute submission to the idea of man-made climate change. So a peak body of highly educated individuals did not all see eye-to-eye on a contentious topic? Colour me shocked!

  2. DannyBoy says:

    The Australian Medical Students’ Association also has some quite forward thinking, “climate-justice” orientated policy from a few years back.

    https://www.amsa.org.au/docs/climate_policy.pdf

    Their highly successful international campaign – Climate Change, “Code Green” – has been recently documented in the Lancet:

    https://www.amsa.org.au/climate

    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2811%2960384-X/fulltext?rss=yes

  3. Connie Gane says:

    Shooba, but the College and entire international medical community do see eye-to-eye (the Lancet series is a good starting point).
    The College was quite clear in 2009: http://tiny.cc/54g3e
    Even medico-political conservatives, the AMA, are on side: http://ama.com.au/node/4442
    It’s the new(ish) RACP management that seems to be letting ideology get in the way of the truth, and that’s not a good look for an organization that is grounded in science, not silly politicking. Hence the internal malcontent.

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