Issue 12 / 7 April 2014

THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report — Climate Change 2014: Impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability — released last week is notable for its familiar themes.

We have known about these risks for a long time now and the new report covers the wide range of recent and projected impacts affecting Australia and our global community. It reaffirms the critical importance of strong action to mitigate climate change in order to safeguard a healthy future.

In Australia we have already seen increased mortality and hospital admissions associated with extreme heat events and increased pressure on water supplies.

The new report states, with high confidence, that Australia will face more frequent and intense heatwaves, bushfires, floods, storm surges and droughts. These climatic extremes are expected to increase the risk of injury, disease and death.

The report confirms that Australia has shown “significant vulnerability” to recent extreme climatic events. The 2009 Victorian heatwave was associated with 374 excess deaths, in addition to a 46% increase in ambulance dispatches over the 3 extreme heat days.

During the 2011 Queensland floods 33 people lost their lives.

The health impacts of climate-related disasters can endure long after the event. For example, a study of New Orleans residents found widespread hurricane-related mental illness almost 2 years after Hurricane Katrina.

Beyond this, the economic costs associated with climate-related events can be astounding. The Queensland floods were estimated to have cost the government $10 billion for construction alone.

The health and economic burdens associated with climate change will add to the strains on our health systems, which will have to adapt to ensure infrastructure, resources and preparedness are available to effectively engage in disaster management. These efforts may be futile if we do not rapidly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change could be the great disrupter of our age and threatens to reverse major health advancements. It is projected to increase the risk of under-nutrition in poor regions due to decreased food production, with estimates of up to 25 million more underweight children by 2050 compared with a future without climate change.

Health professionals will be at the forefront of managing the health impacts of climate change. However, to effectively safeguard the health of our patients and society, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced.

Health professionals need to take leadership roles by extending a long tradition of advocacy on public health issues to call for urgent action to mitigate climate change.

We now have a narrow window to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Almost halfway through the critical decade for action on climate change, efforts to reduce emissions remain profoundly inadequate. Australia’s contribution to generating emissions is often understated. Including emissions from coal exports and those produced domestically, Australia is the 16th largest emitter of carbon dioxide globally. Planned fossil fuel developments are estimated to double our carbon dioxide output.

So what can we do as health professionals? Collectively we can lead a movement to reframe climate change as a health issue. This could reinvigorate public engagement and momentum towards finding solutions.

Individually we can divest from fossil fuels. We call on our institutions (banks, superannuation, health services, universities, etc) to divest and adopt sustainable practices. Publicly we can advocate for strong government policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and rapidly transition from fossil fuel energy generation to low-emission renewable energy technologies.

The decisions we make today about climate change will have a large bearing on the health of generations to come. We have much to gain from action and much to lose from inaction. Leaving Australia’s carbon reserves in the ground is not turning our back on centuries of progress — it is trying to ensure centuries of continued progress.

 

Dr Mark Braidwood and Dr Catherine Pendrey are members of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Dr Eugenie Kayak and Dr Graeme Horton.


Poll

Should doctors actively lobby governments about the potential impacts of climate change on public health?
  • Yes - it's vital (66%, 112 Votes)
  • No - not our role (22%, 38 Votes)
  • Maybe - doctors need more education (12%, 20 Votes)

Total Voters: 170

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18 thoughts on “Mark Braidwood

  1. Lynton Giles says:

     

    It is gratifying to see this article which strengthens the case that health professionals should take a firm stand on climate change. Jane McCredie’s comments regarding the world’s population (MJA InSight 24 March) and Fiona Godlee’s comments “Climate change is a health emergancy” (BMJ 2014;348:g2546) are very important contributions. Dr Godlee concludes “Responsibility to act rests especially with those of us who profess to care for people’s health…”. In my opinion, it is imperative for enlightened individuals to make a determined effort to marginalise climate sceptics and climate deniers if the impact of climate change is to be dealt with effectively.

     

  2. Mark Freedman says:

    I totally disagree with Braidwood and Pendry’s premise. That is not to say that I do not think that the worldwide climate is changing. It has been changing for millenia and will continue to change in the future. It is also not my assertion that we should happily continue to pollute our environement. I do however totally disagree with the oft repeated fallacy that Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant gas or even the major “greenhouse gas” – it is not! Nothing that we do in terms of so called carbon taxes, buiying carbon credits so that other countries can continue to polliute will do anything whatsoever to affect any change in our climate. What the “Green” policy is doing is putting more Australians out of work, making  our exports less competitive, increasing our already horrendous tax burdon and decreaseing  our standard of living while we smugly clap ourselves on the back and dream that our efforts will make one iota of difference whilst the 3rd world countries and ten biggest “polluters” expand and increase their environmental pollution. Get real! I dare you to publish this !

  3. George Crisp says:

    IN reply to “proudly sceptical”:

    Firstly, assuming you are a doctor, you would most likely expect your patients and community to value your expertise and respect your views. It is surprising therefore that you so resoundingly dismiss the expertise of climate scientists who support this long and well established theory.

    Secondly, skepticism means having an inquiring mind, it means questioning and testing a scientific theory, over and over. That is what scientists do. Just disagreeing with a scientific consensus or theory is clearly not scepticism.

    Thirdly, climate science is not about ideology. It wasn’t when Tyndall made his observations over 150 years ago, nor Arrhenius 110 years ago, nor any of the many thousands pf scientists who contribute to IPCC, not each of the peak science bodies and institutions of every country. 

     

     

     

     

  4. John Donovan says:

    I cannot challenge the science relating to climate change but there are other solutions. The authors and those like them are strangely silent on nuclear power. So are Australia’s major political parties; the closest either got to a mention of this was Labor’ Minister Martin Ferguson’s comment that it was not needed. If the authors were to show us how baseload power requirements could be met by the technologies they advocate, and show us that the costs of doing so would be acceptable, that would be a great advance on their emotional presentation.

    Until the major political parties include nuclear power in their presentations on the options facing Australia, can we believe that they are serious about tackling the effects of climate change? 

  5. Malcolm Brown says:

    Careful reading of the original published literature leads to quite different conclusions – cold snaps cause more deaths than heat waves and therefore a warming world would benefit mortality rates. Furthermore tropical cyclone activity globally is at a 30 year low and the forecast droughts with major Australian cities running out of water have been proven completely wrong. Scare stories about infectious diseases have been refuted by international experts like Paul Reiter. Temperatures on earth have about 100 degrees range at any moment, and vary at most locations by 15 degrees each day. The idea that an increase of one degree in a century will have health effects is illogical. Global temperatures have not increased during this century showing that the computer models are fundamentally flawed and so we have no credible way of forecasting future climate. The money spent on trying to stop carbon dioxide concentrations increasing to 0.04% in the atmosphere would be better spent on other health initiatives. Opportunity costs are real costs.Tthe billion dollars wasted on the Victorian desalination plant alone would have built a new major hospital.

  6. Department of Health Victoria Clinicians Health Channel says:

    The money spent on the desalination plant was not done in response to climate change but to a prolonged drought, when reservoirs were down to 25% capacity and a government in power was correctly being asked by the public  about their plan for the near term and for the future – it doesn’t alter the fact that over the long term it is going to be a useful safeguard when we have the next prolonged drought, which Tony Abbott assures us has alway been the way in Australia. It is like taking out an insurance policy – you don’t get upset that you didn’t use it immediately !!  If the population of Melbourne reaches 8 million by 2050 as predicted, then our reservoirs will struggle to supply that population plus irrigation for the food required.

    The real problem with the desal plant was the funding mechanism, the PPP which effectively set up the state govt to be ripped off.  Even better than Citylink, which makes good profits and with a clause preventing a raillink to the airport.

     

     

     

  7. Department of Health Victoria Clinicians Health Channel says:

    On the issue of global temperatures, the measured temperature increase is real, based on empirical measurements at many sites, not based on a model. What the computer models do is to then try and predict forward with all of the info that we have available, and that is where any forecasting can be criticised. The real issue is not a one degree rise, but the potential for that to accelerate into an exponential rise which would be almost impossible to turn around – like a rapidly deteriorating patient going into multi-organ failure when you know that you saw the early warning signs,  ignored them and did nothing. 

    For me the major issue of a 4 or 5 degree rise is the spread of tropical diseases (we are currently seeing a large worldwide increase in the number of countries with dengue fever) and the potential for huge population movements – if the latitudes from 0 to 20 degrees from the equator which include billions of people become close to uninhabitable, then the population movements will make our current refugee issue look like a tea party.      

  8. University of New South Wales says:

    >> Lecturer

    1. I’m sorry, but that is a huge leap to suggest that just because cold snaps have higher mortality rates than heat waves,  increased heat in our atmosphere will reduce mortality. 

    2. Tropical cyclone frequency has been predicted to decrease while the severity increases, so your observation is consistent with predicted trends

    3. Which scare stories about infectious diseases? Most of the literature admits a high level of uncertaintity around what will happen, with likely a redistribution of burden rather than a net increase in burden. The paper you cite by Paul Riter looks a lot like the scientific process at work, a knowledgeable author debating a (single) paper in peer reviewed literature. He finishes by saying “We urge those involved to pay closer attention to the complexities of this challenging subect.” No conspiracy here.

    4. Yes there is a broad range of temperature extremes on earth. Climate change is expected to shift the normal distribution rightward – less frequent cold maximums and more frequent hot maximins, and a shifted median. The temperature range that you mention has been remarkably consistent during the evolution of Homo sapien. Probably best not to mess with that?

    5. If you are right that models are not a credible way of predicting future climate trends, what do you propose we do instead? Usually the answer is nothing – a logical response only if you reject the notion that we even need them in the first place.  As for the rest of us, we’ll take imperfect models over faith that “it’ll all be OK, no need to do anything”.

  9. Joc Forsyth says:

    First, I agree with John Donovan that nuclear power must be seriously considered to wean us off the burning of fossil fuels for the production of base load energy. This is partly about the reduction of emissions and partly because the fossil fuels represent important resources for a host of purposes.

    Second, while I feel that anthropogenic climate change, with a range of effects, both predicted and unforeseen, is highly probable, the case for it has been irresponsibly muddied by blatant assertions from proponents and opponents without a decent exposition of the scope of probabilities. This is not a court of law in which barristers war with words, but a vital area of science which is rapidly developing. The highly complex models need to be seen as essential tools in which hypotheses are tested – so that the models can evolve towards greater confidence. Besides, climate change is only one of the gruesome threats which our grandchildren face. The unreasonable nature of economics – demanding infinite exponential growth; the burgeoning pressure on resources; and the influence of unsustainable growth of population along and affluence alike – all of these combine to threaten our very survival.

  10. Harry Jennens says:

    Congratulations on a magnificent and succinct article!  Let the call to action reverberate in all medical fora – and let’s start fixing this problem together!

  11. Harry Jennens says:

    I would like to thank John Donovan for raising the important question of how we can wind down all electricity production from fossil fuels.  Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) produced a Stationary Energy Plan in 2010 that details a technically feasible and economically viable strategy for transitioning to a 100% renewable energy supply within 10 years: http://bze.org.au/zero-carbon-australia/stationary-energy-plan .  This report recommends concentrated solar thermal and wind power over nuclear on the basis of their smaller lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and shorter implementation times.  (BZE also have a number of other useful resources outlining strategies to reduce emissions).  The immediate costs associated with these transitions are significant – but they pale in comparison to the potential (and current) damages wrought by climate change on both our health and our economy, particularly on a global scale.  Furthermore, due in part to no longer relying on fuel, the net costs of implementing a 100% renewable energy supply for Australia become equal with the cost of business as usual within 30 years.  Overall I would suggest then that the immediate costs of transitioning to a 100% renewable energy supply are not only acceptable but highly warranted and urgent to fulfil.

    Does this analysis provide a sufficiently unemotional advance?

  12. John Donovan says:

    To Harry Jennens, yes you have been less emotional than the original authors, but no I still don’t agree with you.

    Short-term, we can put in more solar and wind, and that will help on windy days, although not on calm nights. These technologies provide useful suupplementation but nowhere near enough baseload power for industry, which is what will keep us going economically.

    I agree we cannot build nuclear power stations right now because that would frighten the punters. The importance of this was shown as recently as today when the present govenment’s Minister for Defence announced he wants us to have new diesel powered submarines. It is a sad fact of naval life that nuclear powered submarines can stay under water for very much longer periods which means that our diesel poewred fleet will continue to be no match for potential enemy. The cynic in me suggests that the real aim of our submarine program is to provide employment in Adelaide!

    Can we stop the disinformation? Nuclear power is working in many developed countries. Why not here?

  13. Christine Campbell says:

     Dear Doctors,

     Through out history there have been catastrophic climate events and climate change has will always be with us.

     The religion of anthropological climate change has been challenged by many eminent scientists who are relying on observed facts rather than computer modelled imperfect projections which have not occurred. There are so many individuals and organisations whose existence now depends on the continution of this unproven theory that they become even more hysterical as the projections are not realised.  

    For this article which is nothing more than emotive  to appear  in a respected medical journal is unacceptable. Your opinions should be voiced elsewhere.

     

     

  14. Harry Jennens says:

    To John Donovan,

    Thank you for continuing this discussion!

    I understand that one of the benefits of concentrated solar thermal power, which would provide 60% of Australia’s electricity under Beyond Zero Emissions’ 2020 Stationary Energy Plan, is that it is able to store thermal energy in molten salt and dispatch this as electricity 24 hours a day.  So electricity can be made available even on calm nights with 100% renewables.  This technology is already in use in California and in Spain.

    I agree that nuclear power gets an undeservedly bad rep – it’s certainly safer than coal.  However, I am prepared to advocate solely for renewable energy sources, which are more popularly palatable than nuclear, on the basis that any transition we make away from fossil fuels as soon as possible will help to avert thousands if not millions of deaths globally – including many in Australia.  The longer we delay, the greater the cost in lives and economic damages.  (I’m also impressed by Beyond Zero Emissions’ arguments against nuclear based on its greater lifecycle emissions and longer delay from planning to implementation).

  15. James Kidd says:

    If you are seriously interested in climate change you should:-

    Check out this interesting video from Wimp.com: http://wimp.com/greendeserts/

  16. Mark Braidwood says:

    >> To Climate Realist

    I’d be interested to see you reference these “many eminent scientists”. But even so, that is not an argument, because for each ’eminent scientist” you propose, I can match it with an emininent scientific organisation (NASA, The Royal Society etc.), which would suggest if we’re comparing those who accept vs those who don’t, your eminent scientists would be in the minority. So by that logic you should accept the climate science.

    As for your suggestion that vested interests perpetuate the idea of anthropomorphic climate change, I’d suggest there is much more vested interest in the status quo wouldn’t you say? If you merely postulate rather than provide evidence, then we can equally postulate that vested interests whose existence depends upon fossil fuels are denying the climate science. Just because you can think it doesn’t make it true. 

    So thank you for your comments but I don’t find them convincing. You are engaging in motivated reasoning, not evidence-based reasoning.

  17. Dr Julie Kidd says:

    It’s hard to believe that everyone commenting here is a doctor with our training in scientific method. Anyone who is still propagating denial/doubt about climate change has another agenda that doesn’t include looking after the health and wellbeing of human beings and doesn’t belong in this forum.

  18. david leon says:

    to John Donnovan and Harry Jennens on nuclear: I would add a couple of short points,

    1. if you go with the IPCC and the models of what we need to do by when, nuclear will take too long to implement

    2. as harry mentioned renewables can provide baseload power

    3. wind is, and solar is heading in the direction of being (? already is) cheaper than nuclear.

    4. nuclear has an obvious safety issue. even in the hands of a technologically advanced economy like Japan major disaster has occured with nuclear power and has not been responsibly dealt with.

    cheers

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