Civil Society Steps Up For A Healthy Climate

Political leaders might have dropped the ball on responsible climate policy but health sector leaders have responded with a new advocacy alliance in recognition of the risks climate change poses to public health, reports Fiona Armstrong

Growing disillusionment with the absence of national political leadership on climate change prompted a group of health sector leaders to meet in Melbourne last week — and to establish a climate and health alliance.

Representing organisations and individuals, the alliance is based on the collective understanding that climate change poses a serious and increasing threat to human health. It also recognises that health stakeholders have an important contribution to make in advocating for policy action on climate change and environmental issues.

Last year experts warned (pdf) in the international medical journal The Lancet that climate change poses severe and increasing risks to global public health. The extent to which scientific evidence in both these policy areas is being disregarded by government is a cause for deep concern among health professionals, given that their practice is based on, and depends on, an acceptance of scientific evidence.

Many people were optimistic about a global agreement to reduce emissions and halt further global warming last year. While there was widespread cynicism about the chance of an effective global agreement in Copenhagen, few could have predicted the extent to which governments in Australia would fail to respond to the imperative for action.

In establishing this alliance, the health sector is tackling directly the need for leadership in a policy space that has effectively been vacated by our political leaders.

There is an important role for civil society in helping to fill this leadership vacuum. If political intransigence continues in parliament, it will also be necessary for other sections of civil society to step up and provide leadership on climate policy. Those in the health sector are being joined by people in the arts, churches, welfare groups, unions, farmers and business groups. But they all need to make their voices much, much, louder if their message is to cut through to the wider community with urgency.

Australia now faces an uncertain economic and energy future as our reliance on fossil fuels puts us at risk of economic shock when the carbon intensity of its exports becomes a trade barrier and oil prices rise further. Despite the powerful lobby of vested interests currently advocating for no action on climate change, future economic and energy security requires reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and switching to other natural resources, such as the sun and the wind, for our energy supply. However if our political leaders will not resist the overtures of those with a vested interest in the status quo and act in the national interest, it must fall to leaders in civil society, as well as individual members of the community, to make this position politically untenable.

Health professionals consider climate change to be an issue of public health and safety, and the alliance hopes to help build community support for governments to stand up to those vested interests.

The failure of our political leaders to display any signs of intestinal fortitude on this issue in the current election campaign, however, does not offer much cause for immediate optimism.

More Than Luck is a collection of ideas for citizens who want real change edited by Mark Davis and CPD Executive Director Miriam Lyons. A to-do list for politicians looking to base public policies on the kind of future Australians really want, More Than Luck shows what’s needed to share this country’s good luck amongst all Australians – now and in the future. Click here to find out more. Like what you’ve read? Donate to help make good ideas matter.

Blog Comments

Excellent article by Fiona Armstrong. I have provided some quantitative estimates below of the worsening Climate Crisis and attendant worsening avoidable mortality holocaust that can be described as Climate Genocide.

Both Dr James Lovelock FRS (Gaia hypothesis) and Professor Kevin Anderson ( Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, UK) have recently estimated that fewer than 1 billion people will survive this century due to unaddressed, man-made global warming – noting that the world population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, these estimates translate to a climate genocide involving deaths of 10 billion people this century, this including 6 billion under-5 year old infants, 3 billion Muslims in a terminal Muslim Holocaust, 2 billion Indians, 1.3 billion non-Arab Africans, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis.

Already 16 million people (about 9.5 million of them under-5 year old infants) die avoidably every year due to deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease – and man-made global warming is already clearly worsening this global avoidable mortality holocaust. However 10 billion avoidable deaths due to global warming this century yields an average annual avoidable death rate of 100 million per year.

Collective, national responsibility for this already commenced Climate Holocaust is in direct proportion to per capita national pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases (GHGs). Indeed, fundamental to any international agreement on national rights to pollute our common atmosphere and oceans should be the belief that “all men are created equal”. However reality is otherwise: “annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution” in units of “tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year” (2005-2008 data) is 0.9 (Bangladesh), 0.9 (Pakistan), 2.2 (India), less than 3 (many African and Island countries), 3.2 (the Developing World), 5.5 (China), 6.7 (the World), 11 (Europe), 16 (the Developed World), 27 (the US) and 30 (Australia; or 54 if Australia’s huge Exported CO2 pollution is included).

However there is also a past carbon pollution debt for carbon pollution from the start of the Industrial Revolution 2 centuries ago. European First World countries are responsible for about 73% of historical carbon pollution of the atmosphere from 1751-2006,with India, Japan and China contributing 2.5%, 3.9% and 8.2%, respectively.

The World needs to attain a net negative carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution in order to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentration from the current dangerous and damaging 390 parts per million (ppm) to a safe and sustainable 300 ppm, as recommended by top climate scientists ( for details see Google and “Climate Genocide”).

[…] Published in CPD’s Thinking Points 11 August 2010 […]

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