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Climate Change Health Crisis

At a recent MWSNSW dinner meeting, Dr Rickman spoke on ‘Medicine, Activism and the Environment’. She expressed her deep concern that if GGE continue to rise by the current rate, there will be a devastating increase in Australia of bushfires, droughts, intense rain events leading to increased flooding, and an increase in vector born disease. Gobally there will be an increase in refugee numbers as a result of climate change. Norman Myers from Oxford University estimates 200 million climate refugees as a result of environmental degradation by 2050 unless steps are taken to reverse the continuing rise in GGE.

Dr Rickman outlined many of the serious implications of environmental change on populations and called on the medical profession to support environmental reform. She urged for breaking denial and taking action.

“Each time I am asked to speak on this critical environmental health issue of our time, climate change, I am disturbed by the predictions being worse than last time.” Dr Rickman used the analogy of the at-risk cardiac or pre diabetic patient, in denial of the health crisis that lay ahead of them, ignoring their doctor’s preventative advice. She urged us not to make this same mistake as action was needed now to prevent catastrophic effects in a matter of decades.

“I think sometimes being an advocate is like being a doctor. The doctor can urge and educate the patient on taking their blood pressure medication, but if we as patients don’t take the prescribed medication and lifestyle changes our risk of a stroke remains the same despite everything the doctor does.  We all know the power of denial, we see it our patients when they cannot deal with or bear to face what we see so clearly lies ahead for them. In some cases we could say it protects them from the pain of having to bear the unbearable. We understand the feelings of powerlessness, overwhelm, and fear. But in some cases denial prevents them taking the actions they need to, to prevent the stroke, the diabetes, the heart attack.”

Dr Rickman believes most people are deeply concerned about the future of this planet, and what threatens our lives here  She believes that governments could be urged to take the risks to do what is needed and corporations would adapt faster if we the general public made it clear that this issue concerns us in every aspect of our life: “how we transport ourselves, what cars we buy, the way we shop, how we power our homes.”

The good news is that each one of us can reduce our GGE by 50 % within the year by lifestyle changes. Dr Rickman quoted Dr David King: “I don’t think we are looking at sandals and a hair shirt. For some reason energy consumption has become a status symbol, but if we invert that we are talking about culture change.”

To avert the very serious climate effects 40-50% reduction of GGE is required by 2020, and 90% or more by 2050. Australia is in a special position to act as a country with one of the highest per capita GGE rate in the world, mainly due to our heavy use of coal as our main energy source.

Dr Liz Rickman showed research that has shown that 2 similar homes can differ by up to 50% in their GGE, and that Australians can begin now to achieve a 50% reduction in GGE by implementing simple changes. Suggestions from choosing the green option with your energy supplier to source up to 100% renewable energy from the grid, to reviewing lighting and appliances were made.




USE RENEWABLE ENERGY: Phone your energy provider. Most energy providers provide a “green” option, which enables users to source renewable energy from the grid for only about $1.00 a week extra. If your energy provider cannot source 100% renewable energy, consider changing your provider. This sends a strong message to industry and government to finance renewables and not coal.

(It has been estimated that if 1% of the worlds deserts were fitted with solar panels and this were linked to the world’s energy grid it would be enough to supply the world’s energy needs as forecast for 2030.)

There is a government rebate to source solar energy and water heating for individual homes. Some companies are doing this for the full rebate ($8000) only, currently up to June 30 2009, after which there will be a different rebate system.

AVOID STANDBY, USE ENERGY EFFICIENT LIGHT GLOBES & APPLIANCES: by using power boards where power points are inaccessible, and turning off appliances when not being used, a total of 1% of the world’s GGE can be reduced, which has been estimated to be  the same contribution from the aviation industry. (-International Energy Agency)

Screen savers do not reduce energy use. Instead it has been advised to set the computer to “sleep” after 10 mins.

INSULATE, VENTILATE: For every 1 degree rise in heating there is a 10% increase in GGE. Keep central heating setting lower. Wear a jumper.

REDUCE WASTE: Waste has high rates of methane gas release which is a potent greenhouse gas and is responsible for a significant percentage of world’s GGE.

OFFSET AIR TRAVEL: as yet there is not a “clean aviation fuel”, so reduce where possible by using teleconferencing etc. Offsetting can assist in reducing the total of GGE released into the environment.

TRANSPORT: Use public transport when possible. Buy cars with good fuel efficiency. (US policy has recently set targets for cars to have an average of 6.63 litres per 100 km by 2016)

SHOPPING: Reduce what is bought and avoid packaging and single use items so as to reduce waste. Vegetarian food items carry less GGE load.

LOBBY governments and industry to achieve 50% reduction in GGE nationwide by 2020, and 90% by 2050. Join a climate group, write to politicians.

Reducing GGE in these ways affects up to 50% of the sources of GGE, thereby having significant global impact.

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