Saturday, May 17, 2014

Energy transition, the Royal Society of Medicine, and DEEPA

I attended a conference yesterday called "Prosperity challenged: Energy transition & public health (there is a blog of it here, posted by Medsin-UK), hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine, founded in the 18th century, in London. I attended it electronically, using software called Jabber.

I was the first invited speaker, and had intended to travel in person. Circumstances stopped that; it's a shame I couldn't interact more with the people at the meeting, including Prof Kevin Anderson, but at least I didn't have to spend days on a plane, and my carbon generation is a bit less. Instead, I recorded my slides a few day ago. My slides (with recorded voice) are now posted on slideshare; maybe also on You-Tube if I can figure it out. Note, that to hear the voice you need to download the file, which is almost 80 megabytes.
We need a transition to clean energy urgently, in order to (a) prevent dangerous climate change; (b) improve air pollution, especially in Asia, and (c) because, pretty soon, fossil fuel is going to be generally unaffordable. If we factored in the negative "externalities" of fossil fuel we'd already find them too expensive, as Christine Legarde, of the IMF has pointed out. 

Optimists think ingenuity will solve scarcity. It may (largely) – including by recognizing limits. Triumphalists don’t seem to admit that reduced energy use, solar, education for girls, wider human rights, indeed environmental rights etc etc are forms of applied ingenuity. But market forces, even though rigged by an increasingly desperate fossil fuel industry (as pointed out by Prof Sharon Beder), are now working in favour of renewables.

Later I had an interesting "conversation" with Dr David McCoy, current president of MedAct, UK, who also attended the conference. In that correspondence, I was reminded of my proposal, made in 1988, for a global coalition of doctors and their friends, which I suggested, perhaps romantically, be called "DEEPA", an acronym for “Doctors for Earth, Environment, Peace and Action”. DEEPA in English, is of course a pun on "deeper" .. but it also means “light” (or "lamp") in Sanskrit. Deepawali, usually shortened to Diwali, is the Hindu Festival of Light. It's probably an ancient harvest festival, held in October or November.

DEEPA remains an idea, but soon after Susan and I did found the NGO BODHI (Benevolent Organisation for Development, Health and Insight). BODHI is also a Sanskrit word, meaning "enlightenment", or "awakening." "Bodhicitta" can be translated as the mind of enlightenment, and also of compassion. BODHI, whose patron is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, marks its 25th anniversary in July 2014.

Susan and I first met during Diwali in Delhi, in 1985. On the next night I left Delhi to travel by train for three days to West Bengal. I still vividly recall my emotion as I passed through what seemed miles lit by thousands of candles, with no electric light anywhere.

In November, 1990, the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE) was founded, a sister organisation to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. One of ISDE's affiliates is Doctors for the Environment Australia (of which I am a founding board member). Since 2011 I have been DEA's representative to ISDE.

Perhaps doctors can develop even more coalitions trying to protect planetary health in order to protect human health. There is a chapter on the general topic of health and medical activism, co-authored with Dr Sue Wareham, in my forthcoming edited book Climate Change and Global Health (CABI). Both the Lancet and BMJ have recently had relevant articles (in the Lancet's case a manifesto that anyone can sign) on the need for health workers to also think about planetary well-being. In fact, the author of the BMJ piece is Dr Eric Chivian, who co-founded IPPNW in 1980. Dr Chivian also founded the Center for Health and the Global Environment, later associated with Dr Paul Epstein, to whom my book is dedicated.