Doctors, let's make this the 'Climate Change Election'

"Everywhere I go, I see headlines saying that the 2019 federal election is the 'Climate Change Election'.  Ordinary citizens, from school children to retirees, who see the stark reality of a climate-altered future, are taking to the streets crying out for action and leadership",  says Dr Lucy Watt, in a new article in AusDoc.

"As a doctor who works in emergency medicine, I support this rallying cry."

This week, students, who are set to strike at federal MPs' electorate offices across Australia, will take mass action on climate change for the second time this year. As a doctor who works in emergency medicine, I support this rallying cry.  Bushfires, floods, heatwaves and extreme weather events, aggravated by climate change, are increasing and becoming more intense.

But because these are disasters we know and understand, given we have always had a harsh climate, the threats seem like familiar events that we can deal with. However, the time has come to recognise that our changing climate is likely to significantly exacerbate these events. The truth is that climate change is so much more than a-few-degrees-warmer summers, extra hot days, rainy weather and wild winds.

Another aspect of climate change that is not often considered is how it will affect our health and wellbeing. Leading international medical journal the Lancet has characterised climate change as the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. Doctors who are in the frontline of care are concerned about the potentially catastrophic risks to our health. Last month, a global coalition of concerned medical and healthcare organisations wrote an open letter to Australian political parties and candidates.

Doctors for the Environment Australia declared a climate emergency at its recent national conference.

People who are already ill, the very young and the very old, and the economically and socially marginalised, will bear the brunt of what is to come. The people where I live and work are still recovering from Cyclone Debbie, which tore through our region in 2017, destroying lives, homes, businesses and livelihoods. All of us face real threats such as water shortages and food insecurity.

We will face ever-increasing threats from vector-borne diseases such as dengue, and infectious diseases such as typhoid and melioidosis.1,2 Irukandji jellyfish, whose sting can be life threatening, will possibly be seen further and further south in years to come, according to research from Griffith University.3 We will see more and more unnecessary deaths from air pollution, which is intimately linked to our ongoing dependence on fossil fuels.4 Our built world — our homes, schools, sports fields and places of worship — will be under threat from sea level rise, flooding and bushfires.5 So, what’s to be done? Some say it’s all locked in and we can do little to avert the catastrophes that loom. Others, more hopeful, suggest that if we really make an effort to reduce CO2 emissions drastically in the next decade, we can avoid some of the predicted outcomes. The reality is, though, that we really don’t know.

To achieve these measures of good health, we must reduce our CO2 emissions to net zero by every means possible by 2050. Take urgent action to develop national climate mitigation and adaptation schemes that guide towns, communities, regions and states to navigate through a somewhat unknown territory. And establish an independent environmental protection agency, which will prioritise the care and protection of our environment above all else. To ensure that the next lot of elected officials take this prescription seriously, it’s up to us voters to make this coming election about climate change like our life depended on it. Because, in fact, it does.

To read the full article in 8th May edition of Ausdoc Plus, go here.

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