Leading doctors say we’re failing our kids

Leading doctors say we’re failing our kids

By Jo Hegerty, Starts at Sixty

A group of leading doctors, many of them grandparents, has called for action on a threat they say needs priority attention. The doctors say failure to act on this threat means we are failing in the most “fundamental call of humanity” – that is, to nurture its young.

Launching the report No Time for Games: Children’s Health and Climate Change, Australian of the Year in 2003, Professor Fiona Stanley, says, “Climate change poses a significant and growing threat to public health. However it’s our children who, despite being the least responsible for causing it, unfairly bear the brunt of the impacts”.

Describing climate changes as an “intergenerational injustice”, the report calls for urgent and comprehensive action by government ministers and for Australia’s grandparents to stand up for future generations.

Professor Stanley says, “If we do nothing how will our generation, who had the chance to act but failed to do so, justify our inaction to future generations living on what will become an inhospitable planet?”

Recently retired physician and chair of the Victorian Committee of Doctors for the Environment, John Iser has 10 grandchildren and feels passionate about the issue of climate change.

“It is this current generation of our grandchildren who will also have to deal with the problems of climate change when they are in their 50s or 60s if global warming is not addressed now. When I see any of our 10 grandchildren, I know that they would want me to do as much as possible to maintain a liveable planet”.

Dr John Iser’s 10 grandchildren (Image credit: John Iser)

The report explains that today’s children are already at risk from climate change and that any further increase in temperature enhances their risk of severe asthma attacks and diarrhoea, mental and emotional distress, dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases, and death, trauma and accident from extreme events such as storms, flooding, fire and heatwaves.

The doctors have recommended a series of actions to be taken to protect our grandchildren in the future, pointing out that prevention is better than scrambling for a cure.

Dr Iser says, “If we are to contain global warming to a tolerable degree, scientists have calculated that about 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground. This means that it makes no sense to explore for and release new supplies of these fuels. Instead we need to move smartly to what we call sustainable energy, such as solar, wind, and other sources that do not release carbon dioxide.

“Countries around the world are moving to these alternatives quite rapidly and some have planned to phase out coal-fired power stations.”

And what can we do as citizens?

“Many local communities are addressing the problem and developing their own windfarms, and ensuring that forests and waterways are protected. For those of us who live in cities, we can spend time with our grandchildren and give them the opportunity to see nature at work in parks and nature trails,” says Dr Iser.

“We can look at our energy usage by making sure that our homes are well insulated and that we avoid overuse of heating and air-conditioning. And instead of rattling around in the family home, we can even look at ‘downsizing’,” he adds.

Professor Stanley is hopeful the voices of Australia’s leading doctors will help drive the rapid change required to prevent a situation that “verges on the apocalyptic”.

“As a parent, a grandmother and a public health professional with a long career in primary prevention, I strongly urge all Australians to get behind this report’s bold recommendations. Together we can and must help tackle climate change for the sake of our children, while there is still time”.

This story first appeared in Starts at Sixty on 17 June 2015

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