We are always seeing examples of “the ripple effect” in medicine, be it how an individual’s odd habits can affect their overall well-being, or the strange way in which some epidemics start. Often we have a good chortle over these serendipitous anomalies, but the fashion now is gradually trending towards analysing the complex menagerie of modifiable events behind these “ripples”, revealing the guts of the matter for public scrutiny. The intrepid members of Doctors of Australia (DEA) go one step further in their annual iDEA conferences, gathering a symposium of speakers who not only analyse the obvious-yet-not-so-obvious cause and effect of environmental change on individual health, but also suggest ways of halting these ripples before they break devastatingly into the shore.
iDEA15 began with a day of pre-conference workshops, one stream designed to accredit general practitioners and the other for open attendance. The open attendance workshops showcased tools that can help us instigate a tsunami of change to confront the climate Godzilla threatening to destroy the flora and fauna of Earth (maybe turn it into a not-so-far-reaching T-Rex). It was like Alfred showing James Bond how to defeat Darth Vader. The Australia Youth Climate Coalistion (AYCC – an admiring shout-out to your phenomenal stand last week against the banks using our money to fund coal ports on the Great Barrier Reef), through interactive thought experiments, helped us figure out which theory of change will give our campaign strategy that extra kick. But of course, anything is possible in theory: in theory, I could strap toast butter side up to a cat’s back and create a hovering anomaly by dropping it at bench height, but we all know that’s animal cruelty. Thankfully we had Dr. Jennens of DEA in the following workshop, who fortified the teachings of AYCC by encouraging us to think practically, turning our strategies into reality using well-placed tactics.
No cats were involved in any of the pre-conference workshops.
Of course, to achieve any change, we need to exploit our stealth and influence by exercising mind-control practical, compassionate logic on the people with social power in the community: our politicians. The next workshop swept us up in a torrent of arguments and counter-arguments, much to the excitement of our suppressed, frustrated souls. Soon after, we all surged with the AMSA reps in their Code Green Campaign to encourage doctors to arrange meetings with their local members of parliament and negotiate more climate-focused policies. The day rounded up with a session of deep ecology meditation to help us all stay grounded…you know, to the ground.
The first day of speakers, kicked off by Amanda McKenzie and Professor Lesley Hughes of the Climate Council, was simultaneously enlightening and horrifying. We saw how a one-degree increase in global temperatures has already destroyed the regularity of the world, much like how a diet of burger rings and steak destroys the regularity of our bowels. Climate change is unfailingly linked to public health disasters, from the massacre of the elderly by heat waves in Europe to increased incidence of childhood asthma in our own backyard, and increased malarial risk spurred on by extensive flooding. And let’s not forget the disappearing bees! Well, I suppose that’s not a direct health hazard, the absence of bees, but I, for one, would like to live in a future that still held a healthy abundance of bees. Astonishingly, as the world remains preoccupied with harping on about the air quality of Chinese cities, not even three hours from Sydney in the Hunter Valley, a hub for the coal and power industry, the PM2.5 measurements are on a gradual sinister incline. To reach a two-degree increase could end life as we know it – okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an over-exaggeration, but it would be so extremely terriblood and shame-generating – and Australia really needs to aim higher in our climate change targets.
I can’t speak for all the conference attendees, many of whom were thoroughly aware of this inconvenient truth and active in climate change advocacy long before powerpoints were popularised, but I felt overwhelmingly sobered by the speakers that day. Thankfully, the remainder of the conference focused on action, something increasingly cathartic. Day two featured speakers who talked about how life tramples on in spite of the climate threat, and ways to drag the sheeple back into reality. Yo banking corporations, why invest in dirty coal when clean, renewable, sustainable energy is getting cheaper and will earn you unthinkable returns over a longer time span, declared Dr. John Hewson, of the Asset Owners Disclosure Project. Yo media, look, we can make climate change appear hella sexy, explained Communications Specialist Brett De Hoedt. So, I may have paraphrased a little there, but sometimes it’s faster.
The final events of day two were a panel discussion and a brief introduction to DEA. As much as the conference had boosted my belief in how my doctorly wiles can indeed charm politicians and make a difference, the hidden difficulties were realised in interactions with the panel, which included two members of parliament. I lost count of the number of times a variation of “I can’t make that promise on behalf of the party” was used as a reply. It appears we still have our work cut out for us. The take home message here is, we’re doctors, and despite all the humility we’re taught to have, we need to reserve some hubris for the big stuff, because people believe what we say (I’ve once told someone that infants can read minds and this ability decreases the more they learn to talk, such is the cruel nature of evolution. That went well), and why wield such power over the masses when you can’t do some good with it?
Go on. The environment is counting on us.
For more (actual, truthful) information and to join the cause (our great responsibility, for the great power we’ve inherited from our profession), please visit:
http://globalhealth.amsa.org.au/advocacy/code-green-campaign/ or email
[email protected] to get involved (and for information on how you can get into contact with your local MP)!
Year 6, UNSW
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