News from the Secretary, August 2008

Barack Obama and Climate Change

The world cannot move forward without the US getting positively involved in this issue. Obama's acceptance speech contained some good intent. He said:-

"And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president - in 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East."

"Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close."

"As president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power."

"I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America," he said. "I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars."

"And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced."

This is all good news apart from the questionable statement on nuclear energy. I have watched so many elections come and go in so many countries, and each time I build up optimism that attitudinal change might eventuate. I have learned that perhaps the best one can hope for is a mediocre government for often its much worse! However let’s be optimistic about Obama, he is relatively young, he is intelligent and seemingly his brain is not hard wired into the US political system.

DEA – THE WAY FORWARD

Today it is timely to provide you with an overview of our core activities’ policy for we are moving towards a meeting of the Management Committee in Melbourne on 2nd October, an annual face-to-face meeting at which our work for 2008-9 will be debated and decided.

Our activities rest on two pillars. Firstly we act to directly influence decision-makers by presenting scientific and medical facts and meeting with them. Secondly we educate the public on the health implications of environmental events. The two pillars are linked as I will explain.

Education
We have much expertise but as a small organisation we have few resources. We must work through others. Members of DEA and the profession in general are our main resource to deliver our messages to patients and occasionally to the general public. To date the educational effort has been in the form of posters, information sheets, GreenClinic brochures and meetings, some of which have been successful beyond our expectations.
What are our plans for the immediate future?
We have been very encouraged by the ideas and work flowing from the members. For example at our WONCA stand in Melbourne in October, we will be distributing two new educational pamphlets, which were prepared by members Richard Yin and George Crisp and printed by Medical Observer. (“Help Yourself and Help the Planet” and “Prescription for a Healthier Planet”).  Medical Observer and the DEA web site will promote the pamphlets. We plan to develop more material and to widen the remit into other preventative measures for example toxic substances. Our members have the expertise to help with this and the appointment of an assistant will enable us to move forward. Already we work through Medical Observer and the RACGP (distribution of posters) but we must expand our reach to other medical organisations and at the AGM you will hear of developments that will promote this.

Interaction with Decision-Makers

You will be aware of these activities but let me illustrate them by mentioning two recent contributions.  Firstly, on the web site you will see a letter from the Federal Treasurer. This arises from a letter we sent to all members of Parliament; the treasurer gave permission for his letter to be made public. Secondly, on the web site at Submissions you will find our recent  “Submission to COAG Working Group on Climate Change and Water on Design Options for the Expanded Renewable Energy Target”. This was written by a DEA member with expertise in this sphere and illustrates one further mechanism of our input into decision-makers.
What are our plans for the immediate future?
We get access to politicians and are well received because of our professional status. We are not yet fully exploiting this. We need to expand the number of letters and briefings to politicians. We need to submit to more parliamentary committees, both Federal and State. And most difficult of all we need to personally meet more Ministers and their Shadows. At the moment several Ministers are being keenly lobbied by industry “heavies” to give them deals on emission trading. This week we sent out a letter to all politicians, a tiny counterbalance re the need for emissions trading as a health issue. I wish we had the resources to be at the Ministers’ doors as well. Our appointment of a full-time assistant offers the option of greatly increasing this vital work for the logistics of letters, appointments and submissions is so time-consuming that it has blocked our progress.

How are the two pillars linked?

Many aspects of our work serve the intent of both pillars. For example:-
The “Climate Change Health Check” was aimed at government policy but was also an educational document for doctors and public. It has lead to many invitations to speak at medical meetings which disseminate the message. Our educational web site provides material for you and your patients but we know that material is picked up by the staff of Ministers and other decision-makers. When "The Climate Change Health Check" was released, our monthly web site “hits” increased from 60 to 80,000 per month and the increase was traceable in part to parliamentary offices. As you will have seen from my newsletters web site, improvement is being reviewed by a committee and we hope to have further news for you at the AGM.

How can you help us?
Send us your ideas. Several recent advances have come from members. These will be considered at out Management Committee meeting on 2nd October.

Annual General Meeting
Please remember the AGM on October 4 at 5.30 pm at the Melbourne Convention Centre.
The Management Committee will be meeting on 2nd October, and the new Committee will be formed. There is one vacancy. I am formally calling for nominations and if there is more than one nomination, an election will be called under the rules in the Constitution. However we have never had an election because those with time to participate have always gravitated onto the Committee! We hope to find a nominee from Queensland, Victoria or South Australia which are under-represented on the Committee. Alternatively the vacancy might be used for a student representative. This will be considered at the Management Committee meeting on 2nd October.

Other News

GreenClinic Evaluation
Details of this initiative between the Australian Conservation Council and DEA can be found on the DEA web site.
The project has now been evaluated in an article in Australian Family Physician. Vol. 37, No. 8, August 2008, 683
“The GreenClinic Pilot. Educational intervention for environmentally sustainable general practice” - Grant Blashki and Graeme Horton are co-authors of the article.
There is an urgent need for our community to live and work within the capacity of our environment to supply our resources and absorb our wastes. Human health is already affected by climate change: examples include the changing distribution of infectious diseases and allergens, and increases in heat-related deaths. If global temperature increases are to be curbed, we must take every opportunity to share our collective knowledge of how best to involve others in this challenge.
For podcasts on the topic by Grant Blashki and Don Henry go to  www.racgp.org.au/afp/audio
Public Transport and the latest DEA Poster
DEA has several initiatives to encourage the increased development of public transport as a health issue. Our latest poster, ready soon “Less Drive Time, More Alive Time” covers the issue of exercise and public transport. This poster will be ready for the WONCA conference.

Web site   www.dea.org.au
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