News and Comment from the Secretary

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme
The Government’s key proposal for the reduction of greenhouse emissions, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme may not deliver satisfactory outcomes.

The first problem relates to the voluntary reduction in emissions by the community. It is possible that these efforts will become a waste of time under the CPRS. Many critiques have argued that when a citizen reduces personal emissions by  installing solar panels or indeed by using the Government’s new insulation scheme for houses, the reduced electricity production from power stations will allow this power station  to sell permits to other polluting industries. Overall there will be no decrease in emissions. The government has not answered this criticism satisfactorily. The second problem relates to major exporting polluters, including iron ore and aluminium producers BHP Billiton, Alcoa and Rio Tinto, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers Chevron and Woodside Petroleum, who will get significant exemptions for their emissions. The government appears to have been rolled over in the face of heavy lobbying by industry.

There are further concerns. A similar carbon trading scheme in Europe, operational for some time, has not been effective. Complex taxes face difficulties with public acceptance and offer loopholes for non compliance. The CPRS is complex. With the benefit of hindsight, a carbon tax, a GST for carbon, would be simpler and more acceptable.

The present global situation
There is an increased rate of greenhouse emissions. Levels of carbon dioxide last year reached a global average of 384.9 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere,   In 2007 the increase was 2.2 ppm, compared with a previous annual increase of 1.8 ppm. This is concerning because emissions were expected to decrease slightly during world recession. There are two possible explanations, firstly that the emissions would have been even grater without world recession,  and secondly that  the oceans are becoming saturated by carbon dioxide and  now have less ability to absorb. This possibility has been raised by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The world’s financial recession is leading the developed countries to lower their targets for emission reduction with 15 percent by 2020 being an unofficial consensus. This is far below the target suggested by the scientific community. However it seems to be the likely ball park figure for the Copenhagen meetings this year.  Many developed countries continue to indicate that they will not agree to reduce emissions withour commitments to do so by the developing world. Agreement will be difficult because  the developed countries have failed to deliver to poor countries funding  far adaption to climate change promised under the Kyoto protocol and other agreements. Over 7 years less than 10 percent of promised funds have been forthcoming. There is now a high level of distrust which is likely to feed into future negotiations.

Fortunately there is a wild card for this year’s negotiations, President Obama. Until now the US has been obstructive in international climate change negotiations. But the President’s intent is clear in relation to internal US policy. In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama said  "to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy." He proposes to invest $15 billion a year on wind and solar power, advanced bio-fuels, clean coal and American-built cars and trucks that are more fuel efficient. His participation in international negotiations must bring hope.

A New York Times editorial reported that Todd Stern, The President’s chief climate negotiator, said l that the United States would be involved in the negotiation of a new treaty — to be signed in Copenhagen in December — “in a robust way.”

Climate experts involved in the negotiations say, that the new treaty will differ significantly  from the agreement of a decade ago, reaching beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions and including financial mechanisms and making good on longstanding promises to provide money and technical assistance to help developing countries cope with climate change.

Clearly this would make amends for the broken promises by developed countries with the possibility that a sense of cooperation will emerge.
To keep your hopes alive read the article
 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/01/science/earth/01treaty.html?_r=1&th=&emc=th&pagewanted=all

Climate Change Blues

The article “Climate Change Blues and Greens on http://www.dea.org.au indicates that in the face of financial crisis, climate change is slipping from public and government agendas. The flailing of governments to solve the financial crisis has created a public perception that this is a real crisis, one much higher up a logarithmic scale than climate change. But there are other reasons as detailed in the article; the inconsistent performance of the press in explaining the climate crisis; the failure of communication by scientists; and the saturation of the public with multiple messages of global gloom.
 
Also on the web site  we print the address “The impact of global crises on health: money, weather and microbes” by Dr. Margaret Chan, Director – General of the World Health Organisation. This synthesises in an inspirational way you need to see your elected representative. The thread of intent flows from Margaret Chan to you, for DEA exists to work on issues detailed by Chan. Furthermore, we are linked to Chan and WHO through our parent organisation, the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE). In February ISDE received a letter from the Board of WHO indicating that the Board had decided that WHO should maintain official relations with the International Society of Doctors for the Environment. “In making its decision the Board commended the continuing dedication of the organisation you represent in support of the work of WHO”
Margaret Chan explains how financial and climate crises are working in concert to derail health outcomes throughout the world. Unfortunately an understanding of the mechanisms causing financial chaos is becoming necessary for all of us. I recommend you read “The Quiet Coup” by Simon Johnson, former World Bank Chief Economist in the Atlantic magazine
 http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200905/imf-advice/2

Submissions

We have made submissions to the following
Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. This submission deals with the links between the provision of public health and positive health outcomes. The health necessity for public transport in the rural communities is discussed
Renewable Energy Target exposure draft legislation. This submission was prepared with the help of Sarah Morton, DEA Member and former Treasurer DEA
The Task Force, NSW solar feed-in tariff scheme. A copy was sent  to The Hon Carmel Tebbutt MP, Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Government of New South Wales.  This submission supported feed in tariffs in order to increase the development of renewable energy

These submissions will become available on government web sites and at that stage we will post them on the DEA web site.

Good news section
President Obama to have vegetable garden at White House

Very good news from the New York Times “Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of the South Lawn on Friday to plant a vegetable garden, the first at the White House since World War II. While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern. Virtually the entire Obama family, including the president, will pull weeds, ‘whether they like it or not,’ Mrs. Obama said” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/dining/20garden.html?_r=1&th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print
This is very good news for it transmits an important message that growing more food locally and organically, can lead to healthier eating and reduce reliance on oil for transportation and chemicals for fertilizer. DEA continues to encourage our elected representatives to send a message on climate change by adopting measures to reduce their personal emissions.
President Obama makes progress on climate change

Two recent decisions indicate to us that President Obama is moving forward

The US Environmental Protection Agency has found that climate-warming greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, pose a danger to human health and welfare. http://planetark.org/wen/52160   This is a big advance because the Bush administration had excluded greenhouse emissions from the Clean Air act so the EPA could not take any action to reduce them! Previously we published the US Supreme court hearing which deliberated whether carbon dioxide was a pollutant (starring Justice Scalia) http://www.dea.org.au/node/83 The move is likely to have a profound effect by affecting transportation, power plants, oil refineries, cement plants and other manufacturers.

President Obama has named Jon Wellinghoff -- a lawyer who once served as Nevada's consumer advocate and a believer that electric-car owners could someday get paid to provide backup battery power to the electricity grid -- as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Wellinghoff visualises a more sophisticated electricity system with more big transmission lines and a "smart grid" with greater ability to coordinate fluctuations in wind and solar power with demand.  He is seeking greater authority over the siting of transmission lines that could carry renewable resources from sparsely populated places where they are plentiful to the cities and suburbs where those resources are most needed.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/20/AR2009032003194_pf.html

This decision is important for Australia for it sets and example in grid planning that Australia must follow. The existing grid system does not allow some rural regions to input renewable electricity made locally. Thus it excludes farmers and other citizens of rural regions from investing in renewable energy to generate income.

Cycleways

In recent Senate deals, The Greens  secured Australia's biggest ever investment in cycleways to help everyone in Australia's cities by cleaning the air, reducing traffic congestion, creating hundreds of jobs and addressing the health, peak oil and climate crises. The initial $40 million commitment will be followed by further investment through Infrastructure Australia.

Climate change to become a human rights issue

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will present a study indicating that climate change action will be strengthened by international human rights standards and principles, to the Copenhagen Conference on climate change in December. It then discusses examples of specific human rights directly under threat in climate change; the rights to life, food, water, health, housing, and self-determination are threatened, with women, children and indigenous peoples being particularly vulnerable. The study confers specific obligations under international human rights law to protect individuals whose rights are affected either by the physical impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise and extreme weather events. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/OHCHRanalyticalstudyClimateChange.aspx
 
Bad news section

If you ever had any doubt about the close link between consumerism and the ecological crisis, in the US the fastest growing brands of toilet paper are three ply enclosing thin layers of air to cushion the wipe or infusions of hand lotion between the layers to caress the bum. It’s a long way from useful bumf like the Advertiser cut up and with string through the corner. In the US 98% of all toilet rolls sold come from virgin wood. What more can one say about a consumer society which reaches the bottom in this way?
 http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/feb/26/toilet-roll-america

Important articles and lectures

Members in general practice will have seen Michael Kidd’s article in the Medical Observer “Kidd new champion for green doctors" It can be found at http://www.medicalobserver.com.au/medical-observer/Search.
aspx?srcStr=chael%20kidd&pp=20&op=any&sec=1  
Thank you Michael for increasing our profile.

Current Climate Trajectory for Australia and Health Impacts This lecture was given at “Communities in Climate change: social and equity impacts of climate change and the community sector” by Grant Blashki, Senior Research Fellow, Nossal Institute for Global Health, The University of Melbourne and DEA Management Committee member. This article is posted on the DEA web site. Congratulations to Grant, a really important contribution.

There are two new posters created by DEA members on the web site. One is on the home page, the other on
 http://dea.org.au/node/295

The November meeting of the management Committee of DEA was held at the RACS in Melbourne and we thank the College for their hospitality. You will find a photo of the meeting at page 46 of
 http://www.surgeons.org/Content/NavigationMenu/College
Resources/Publications/SurgicalNews/vol10no01.pdf

The Senate Inquiry into the investment of Commonwealth and State funds in public passenger transport infrastructure and services recognised the inclusion of walking & cycling - here are two submissions that may interest members.
BikeSydney and BicycleNSW submissions are at 61 and 62 of the Committee's website:
http://www.aph.gov.au/SENATE/committee/rrat_ctte/public_transport/submissions/sublist.htm

“Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging” an excellent and detailed report from DEA’s sister organisation Physicians for Public Responsibility in the US can be downloaded at
http://www.psr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=boston_ha