On Saturday, the 5th December 2009, a group of health professionals joined The Wave, a massive demonstration through central London prior to the crucial UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen.
The day began with a meeting hosted by the Royal College of Nursing. Speaker after speaker drove home the fact that time is running out to avert catastrophic climate change, but the message from them all was clear and positive – what is good for the planet is good for our health.
Professor Hugh Montgomery of the Lancet commission on climate change said:
Our carbon emissions are already exceeding the worst case scenario. Health professionals have a duty to act, both as responsible citizens, and because we are engaged in dirty work – the health service consumes a huge amount of carbon.
Climate change will have the biggest impact on the poorest, but we will all be affected. There will be changes in patterns of disease, crops will fail or be wiped out completely, rain will fall at the wrong time and in the wrong quantity, food will become a security issue.
We are already in the middle of a mass extinction, with three species being lost every hour. It is time for action. We don’t have decades, only (have) a few years.
He said that changing our ways will be good for our health, saving as much as 80 billion euros every year.
David Pencheon of the NHS sustainable development unit said:
As health professionals, we have a duty to care. We are demonstrating today for people with less choice and less voice than we have. In the next few weeks we have a unique opportunity to halt the tipping point. The scientific evidence shows that climate change is already happening dangerously fast. We must above all remain positive – we can have a cleaner, safer, quieter, fairer world.
(For the facts on climate change, see The Health Practitioner’s Guide to Climate Change).
The third speaker, Sarah Walpole, a young doctor from Leeds, spoke for a new generation of doctors who will be at the peak of their careers in 2050, when the full effects of climate change will be felt. She said climate change is an intergenerational as well as a health issue:
We can’t wait around for politicians and institutions to do things at their own pace. As health professionals we are in a unique position to interact with lots of different people. We need everyone to keep up the pressure and carry on campaigning.
Pushing a hospital bed containing a ‘sick planet’ and several children, the health group progressed to Parliament Square with the crowd of blue painted activists, handing out prescriptions for a healthy planet to the public on the way.
En route we met the climate change secretary Ed Miliband (see photo below). Several of us talked to him about the health benefits of low carbon living. He was very interested to hear our views and asked us to send him information about the health impact of climate change.
The events were organised by a group of health campaigns: the Climate and Health Council, Medact, the Campaign for Greener Health care and Medsin. If you would like more information about the impact of climate change on health, or if you would like to get involved, email: A.J.R.Waterston@newcastle.ac.uk or email@example.com