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27 Jun 2017

B Rob Thomas, President Australian Medical Students' Association

Climate change is an issue which requires drastic and immediate action. These are words we have now heard for several years and yet very little governmental action has occurred to this effect. Unfortunately, the indirect and future unavoidable impact of climate change on health is not immediately evident, but it is no less troubling. The recent decision by President Trump to pull out of the Paris Accord – the largest commitment to curb the threat of global warming – promises an uncertain future.

It’s alarming to think that it has taken decades for the vast majority of the population to accept the existence of climate change and its anthropogenic origin. Even still, climate change denial is present in politics, far exceeding the evidence base required for action. I encourage you to look at sites like sceptical science if any myths still need busting for yourself.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to tackling the issue has been the pace of technological revolution in the 21st century, but this is also the key to securing the future. As we all know, prevention is far better (and more cost effective) than cure, and it is only through useful change management principles that practice can be improved.

There are already many negative effects of climate change on human health, including heat-related illness, increased incidence of natural disasters and respiratory disease. Changing climate patterns in the future may well threaten food and water security, of which Australia is particularly vulnerable, and communicable diseases such as malaria or dengue have been shown to have the potential to spread. The health cost associated with burning coal has been estimated at $2.6 billion per annum.

Among this gloomy picture, there are actions we can all take that have a real impact. I’m reminded of a friend’s recent capacity to be a change champion, by asking the question about switching to LED lights in the hospital he worked in. Despite this not being his particular domain, and despite him repeatedly being told that a change wouldn’t be possible, he eventually made the case for the lights. While they are not only more efficient use of electricity, they have been shown to be more cost-effective and reliable.

Another way that we might effect change is by putting our money where our mouth is. Divestment is a process where you no longer use a service that funds fossil fuels. While having little direct monetary impact, divestment has the opportunity to raise public image of the issue of fossil fuel investment, putting pressure on banks to change their practices. Luckily, there is often an available and similarly-priced alternative for divestors, and the process can be surprisingly simple.

In your hospital, clinic, or in your personal life small changes can make big differences. The simple act of encouraging the use of keep cups as opposed to disposable (and often non-recyclable) coffee cups has the capacity to reduce landfill waste. Encouraging carbon offset programs for carbon-heavy practices holds merit.

Climate change is everyone’s problem. It’s silent and slow, but requires fast and sustained action. It is time to walk the talk and look at how to be part of the change to curb the change. 


Published: 27 Jun 2017