News from the Secretary January 2009

Health impacts of climate change are felt in Adelaide
The discerning citizens in Adelaide and its environs have recognised the coming of climate change for some time now by changes in the flora and bird population. The River Murray debacle is obvious to all but many still say there have always been such droughts and climate change is not necessarily to blame. But the present heat wave with a succession of days in the low 40’s cannot be escaped physically or scientifically. It has signified the future to most suffering citizens.



The Advertiser reported Health Minister John Hill saying that he was concerned there had been 20 sudden deaths in yesterday's 43.1C heat - and that there is a high probability that a number of the deaths are associated with the hot weather. SA Health chief medical officer Professor Paddy Phillips said 146 people were admitted to hospital with symptoms of heat stress over the past two days. After an Emergency Management Council meeting, Premier Mike Rann said the first priority was to ensure the safety of the state's most vulnerable people. Simultaneously there were rolling power cuts and widespread technical failures across Adelaide and suburbs accompanied by exhortations to reduce power and turn off air conditioners. This reflected what some see as a failure of public policy to plan over many years according to secure scientific data. This failure now has health impacts. The debacle extended to public transport where trams bought recently from Germany and designed for a more equitable climate failed to function in the heat and were replaced by buses. The tram windows do not open and the air conditioners fail in the summer heat thus rendering them unusable.
So it was good to see that this very bad news was matched by some good news, a large government grant to study the health aspects of climate change. This announcement is detailed on and we congratulate Tony McMichael, a member of DEA’s Scientific Advisory Committee on his key role in this funding. Details of the research were discussed on ABC Radio National PM program.

Welcome to Guy Webber, Executive Officer.
The following is a letter from Guy to all members

Dear Members,

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the newly appointed Executive Officer of Doctors for the Environment Australia. My name is Guy Webber. My background is primarily in science. I did post-grad work in genetics and molecular biology and have done a large amount of work in computing. Outside of this I have worked in the media, in business and in independent public policy development both here and abroad.

I come aboard at a time when our relationship with the environment, and consequent health outcomes, is at a critical juncture. What would have once been regarded as the stuff of fantasy, or even ludicrous if suggested, now present as very real threats. The melting of ice-caps, war over water and resources, the reappearance of diseases once thought vanquished and the emergence of new health threats stand as just a few examples.

Nonetheless, in spite of advocacy by the likes of John Muir and Greenpeace, in spite of warnings sounded by environmentalists such as Rachel Carson and Edward Abbey, we collectively continue to behave like the frog in water slowly coming to the boil. The warning message is about, but the inertia present in our public policies, industrial-economic system and consumer lifestyles is highly resistant to change. That said I have no desire to be walking everywhere or eating a diet composed only of lentils. And I suspect most of us are probably of the same mind. But clearly there need to be changes and they will, necessarily, have to be changes that we can all undertake. As the observational data and modelling is improved the time frame within which we need to respond will be better determined. However, given the physics of our closed planetary system, and especially the energy dynamics present in our atmosphere, we might best adopt a response along the lines of the adage: hope for the best but prepare for the worst.'

I applied for this position for a number of reasons. Firstly, I believe the purpose of Doctors for the Environment Australia is something wholly worthwhile. Even if climate change generally, and its consequent threat to health specifically, did not exist, our unsustainable exploitation and pollution of the natural world would be reason enough to act in its defence. Arguably, climate change represents the peak manifestation of our short term thinking with regards the balance of natural systems. It is, therefore, the most appropriate global concern to address, a comment I make without seeking to reduce the importance of dealing with local environmental issues.

Second, I felt I could bring something constructive to the role. As Executive Officer my role is to provide support for the committee in its activities, primarily through administering the organization and by working to build the organization; to act as a sounding board and present ideas and strategies; to act as the initial contact point for DEA; to provide media liaison support and to drive membership and fundraising.

I also applied with the self-interested motivation of wanting to be able to say to my daughter, once she has grown up, that I at least tried to contribute something to restoring a little sanity to our relationship with the environment. This might be seen as an 'insurance' to assuage any guilt, although it is more about standing up and being counted.

Finally, I think simply having an environment that is healthy and able to be enjoyed will require a conscious effort on the part of all. DEA provides an opportunity to further develop that awareness and, importantly, to establish mechanisms able to provide people with options to engage in a response. I think this latter aspect is critical. The ability to lower barriers so that individuals can take action doesn’t just mean a positive outcome. It also prevents a build up of the frustration that so many currently express. I see this as a real danger. Unless effective, affordable, practical measures are made available, people run the risk of becoming so frustrated with the constant barrage of bad news and exhortations to do something that they turn off, or become openly hostile to the challenge. Once that happens it is difficult to turn things around.

DEA therefore has three critical functions:

1) advocacy in support of rational public policy or against that seen as environmentally detrimental and with inappropriate health outcomes;
2) education - providing access to the hard science, data and conclusions underwriting concerns over climate disruption and health threats and;
3) action by example.

I am working with committee members now to develop programs in these areas and I hope soon to be able to report on new initiatives to you. I would also ask that if you have an idea, a strategy that you think can work, of if you need help in advancing a particular program, please contact me. I look forward to working with you and to supporting the efforts of Doctors for the Environment.

Kind Regards
Guy Webber  

DEA initiatives for 2009

A recent meeting of the management committee agreed on several initiatives for 2009. From our interaction with elected representatives we recognise that much more can be done to improve their understanding of the health impacts of climate change. Our members, using their professional badge can gain access to elected representatives to do this and indeed many members ask to help. We propose to identify members willing to help and to provide the support to enable them to do so.

The current web site has served us well but it is cluttered and needs more that a face-lift. Irene Kirczenow, WA member of our Committee has conducted a comprehensive analysis of our needs and work will commence on a new site in the next few weeks.

We are aware that many of our professional organisations including some of the Colleges do not have policy statements on climate change and health. We have resolved to liaise with our colleagues to encourage this need. We are conscious of the public statements and lobbying power of the united voice of business groups and believe that the medical profession could have greater impact if statements from the entire profession could be delivered. This necessitates policy and cooperation!

Over subsequent newsletters we will be bring several other initiatives to your attention.

The Good News section

There is so much bad news in the media that it is good to focus on some positive outcomes and developments.
The coming of President Obama is the best news any of us could have hoped for. Here is the opportunity for the world to draw back from collective madness. In using the word 'coming' I have perhaps subconciously used a Biblical word. Let it be! He has appointed a team with intellectual power on climate change and related matters.

The nominee for energy secretary is Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, who said, at a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, that two key challenges facing the United States are climate change and making the nation more energy independent. Both John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco are leading experts on climate change. Holdren will become Obama's science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Lubchenco will lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees ocean and atmospheric studies and does much of the government's research on global warming.

Professor John Holdren
is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington. At Harvard he battled the spread of nuclear weapons before tackling the threat of global warming. His Quote ''Global warming is a misnomer. It implies something gradual, something uniform, something quite possibly benign, and what we're experiencing is none of those, there is already widespread harm - occurring from climate change. This is not just a problem for our children and our grandchildren". Professor Jane Lubchenco, also a former president of AAAS specialises in overfishing and climate change. She is a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, and has recommended steps to overcome crippling damage to the world's oceans from overfishing and pollution.

Exxon Mobil
Over the years Exxon has covertly funded of lobby groups which deny the science of climate change and was called by Greenpeace "Climate Criminal No 1". Presumably Exxon saw this action as advantageous to the oil industry. But now the good news is the boss of Exxon has called for a carbon tax and the funding of denial is over.

The financial crisis is an opportunity for reform
No-one would wish the pain and suffering that the financial crisis has bestowed upon millions but there may have positive opportunity for change. Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined that within the current multiple crises, climate change is the "only one truly existential threat" and called on the world’s leaders to use the current economic crisis to launch a new Global Compact entailing a "Green New Deal" Industry. He called for a positive outcome in the Copenhagen Climate Conference and underscored the need to "build a grassroots movement for change, now" and to tackle the "great moral imperative of our era."
You will find articles on the financial crisis on  

Spain's high-speed trains win over 'fed-up' flyers
Spain has a remarkable reduction in emissions by building high speed trains. In a country where big cities are often more than 500km apart, air travel has ruled supreme for more than 10 years. A year ago aircraft carried 72% of the 4.8 million long-distance passengers who travelled by air or rail. The figure is now down to 60%.This is an illustration of what can be done in the sphere of public transport. In letters to the government DEA has strongly supported such infrastructure expenditure.

Malcolm Turnbull and climate change

In a very positive statement Mr Turnbull has committed his Party to action in reducing emissions by some measures not presently on the government’s agenda. Read the article at,25197,24955367-11949,00.html  

Articles of importance

The David Suzuki Foundation is pleased to announce a new publication, 'Doing Business in a New Climate: A Guide to Measuring, Reducing and Offsetting Greenhouse Gas Emissions' Doing Business in a New Climate' can be downloaded for free. It might be of interest for DEAs Green hospitals group to look at it

The following article explains why micro-generation of electricity is an important innovation a topic relevant to this week’s power cuts.  

The IUCN has released a background paper for Davos: Energy, ecosystems and livelihoods: Understanding linkages in the face of climate change impacts, which highlights the fact that a well-managed environment will maximize energy security. The paper argues that to sustainably increase future energy supplies, natural resources need to be well-managed and enhanced.    

The Financial Crisis Is Too Dire to Be Left to Politicians
(Co-Authored by Tim Costello)   
The unfolding economic crisis provides the opportunity "to put into the public domain some of the inspiring and feasible alternatives many of us have been working on for decades." The goal linking these alternatives is the "well-being of people and the planet." And that requires a focus not primarily on restoring the financial system, but first and foremost on the great human and environmental crisis the world is facing in relation to food, climate and energy. Such common human interests are not the principal concerns of the people and institutions that now call the shots in national governments or the global economy.

David Shearman
Hon Secretary