Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why I am going to Maules Creek next week

I am travelling to Maules Ck on Monday to join the Leard forest blockade, to oppose the expansion of the Whiehaven coal mine. I am doing so as a member of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, and as co-founder of the Buddhist influenced NGO BODHI.

Primarily I am going to fulfill what I see as part of my responsibility as a professor of public health in Australia, an incredibly fortunate nation that should not be so wedded to coal.

I am a contributor to the recent IPCC health chapter, albeit only a minor one. More significantly, I think, I am sole editor of the recently released  book "Climate Change and Global Health" (CABI, UK) launched last month at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I attach a photograph of the cover. I am also first author for a forthcoming letter in the ANZ Journal of Public Health. It concludes "while continuing to write, speak, organise, and advocate for action we have also concluded that civil disobedience, by health professionals, as part of a wider social movement, is now necessary. Collectively, such actions may yet trigger sufficient corrective action to see the optimists vindicated."

I may be the first contributor to the recent IPCC report to publicly advocate such steps, though I am well aware of Jim Hansen’s role in climate science and civil disobedience.  Indeed Hansen’s actions have long inspired me.But I do not think Hansen has contributed to any recent IPCC reports – and I am pretty sure I won’t be asked again, either! Professor Mark Jaccard, a professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University , and a contributor to the 2007 IPCC report has also been arrested, after setting up a blockade on train tracks in British Columbia, Canada. I do not yet know if Prof  Jaccard has contributed to the most recent report.
No doubt people like Janet Albrechtson will argue that my actions show that the IPCC is politically compromised, but I believe the reverse is closer to truth. Few of the many IPCC contributors I have met or heard speak appear anything like as “politicised” as I am (or for that matter, as Albrechtson is).

From its origins, leaders in public health have interacted with politics, and have sought creative ways to influence public policy and public opinion. As a public health worker (first degrees medical science and medicine, post graduate qualifications in tropical medicine, epidemiology and population health), I am not fully qualified to form a definitive opinion about the accuracy of climate science. But what I can do is consider the implications of published climate science for public health. Having done so for many years, and in great detail (as the book is evidence of) I have concluded that it is appropriate to seek novel ways to influence public policy in ways that will protect and enhance public health, against the slowly worsening and seemingly inexorable assault from climate change.

As I said at the launch of the book I might be making a “type I error” – ie acting without complete certainty, but in medicine that was how I was trained .. eg diagnose appendicitis and recommend surgery; do not wait for the post mortem. I see my actions as nothing more than preventive medicine, but I do regret that more conventional ways to influence Australian opinion do not seem to be enough.

To give my actions more significance and weight I would appreciate any assistance with publicity that you might give.