iDEA19: “Keeping the Lights On” post conference wrap

Doctors for the Environment Australia were honoured to welcome our colleagues, other health professionals,  climate experts, and guests at this year's  hugely successful iDEA19 conference in nipaluna/Hobart  on 5 -7 April. We came together to address the biggest challenge and opportunity facing humanity today— the impacts of climate change on our health. A major highlight of the conference was the declaration of a climate emergency which sparked national and international interest.

DEA thanks all our wonderful speakers, delegates and organisers for making the conference such an outstanding success. 

Delegates heard from leading local and global experts in mental health and non-communicable disease, food and agricultural sustainability, ecology, biodiversity, oceans, greening cities,  climate economics, climate change and human rights, Indigenous health, climate change and our Pacific neighbours, and more. 

Participants were able to select from a wide range of workshops to develop advocacy skills, tap into their creativity and stimulate their interest in a variety of practical ways to respond to the challenges of climate change. They also took the opportunity to attend several energising and fun social events.

Images: Sebastiaan Jansen-Munday

Opening speech

Conference organiser (above photo), Dr Kristine Barnden, gave a rousing opening speech on the theme of climate emergency to a packed auditorium. She said:

"On behalf of the iDEA conference organizing committee, I welcome you all to nipaluna. I also pay my respect to the current day Tasmanian Aboriginal community, who have survived invasion and dispossession, and continue to maintain their identity, culture and Aboriginal rights. 

The theme of this year’s conference is “Keeping the Lights On”. It’s a reminder that, under the shadow of looming environmental catastrophe, keeping on the metaphorical lights of scientific reason, hope, and compassion is just as important to human flourishing as keeping on the electric lights. 

In the audience for the opening session of iDEA 2019 we welcome doctors, medical students, members of the public, representatives from local and federal government and the Hobart City council, and the media. 

A few weeks ago I was asked, if there was one message I could give these people to take home, what would it be? 

This was the same weekend that the Labour party in the UK added its voice to the growing world wide push for the declaration of a climate emergency. And this led me to the discovery that the word “emergency” is derived from a Latin root meaning “to bring forth into the light”.

When I was an intern, I was called to the medical wards one night to see an unwell patient. She looked very unwell indeed, so I sprang into action. I knew exactly what to do: get some blood gasses (for non medical people, this means taking a blood sample from a small artery in the wrist). This turned out to be more difficult than I expected, so I had to focus very hard. I focused so hard that it was some time before I realized that the reason it was so difficult to find the radial pulse was that she did not, in fact, have a pulse. I was a junior doctor, alone in a room at night with a dying patient, and I was so focused on what I thought I needed to do, that I missed the moment of her death. 

That same year, in a hospital in another city, Australia’s first Medical Emergency Team (MET for short) was established. It grew out of the recognition that early identification of a deteriorating patient, and rapid assessment and treatment by an experienced team of doctors and nurses, could prevent that person from progressing to cardiac arrest. 

Now, all over Australia, patient observations are routinely written on a colour coded chart which clearly defines the triggers for calling the MET team. It is very straightforward: when vital signs reach certain levels an emergency MUST be called, the emergency response MUST involve an experienced team, and the patient becomes the team’s one and only priority until they have been stabilised. This approach has saved countless lives. 

Scientists, farmers and indigenous communities have been measuring the vital signs of the planet for some time. We’ve watched temperature and carbon dioxide concentrations rise, we’ve seen species become extinct, insect populations plummet, rivers run dry, fertile lands become arid, oceans become acidified and polluted. The vital signs of our planet have passed well and truly into the emergency zone. 

What we know in medicine as multi-organ failure, on a planetary scale becomes ecosystem collapse. We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to find out what cardiac arrest looks like.

The time to call an emergency is before there is a crisis. The reason to call an emergency is not to ask people to panic, and definitely not to ask the night intern to fix it while the rest of us slumber. The reason to call an emergency is so that we, together as a society, look at the bigger picture, reevaluate our priorities, and focus our energies and our expertise on what needs to be done. 

We hope that his conference will provide you with the inspiration, insights and contacts to come together as a team to act for a healthy planet and healthy people. It is possible to look after the planet, and build healthy, flourishing communities, at the same time. But there is no time for games." 

Dr Barnden's speech set the tone for the rest of a truly enlightening and inspirational conference.   

iDEA19 Media:

The Mercury, Talking Points, Dr Alice McGushin (Paywall)

The Mercury, interview with Dr Kristine Barnden (Paywall) 

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