Doctors orders: NZ ’must rapidly halve its greenhouse emissions’

By Gareth Renowden 09/10/2009

fatlenny.jpgIn a hard-hitting article in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal, a group of senior health professionals call for NZ to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The spokesperson for the recently formed Climate and Health Group, Dr Alex Hamilton says:

Climate change has been described as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, and the substantial health benefits of action should be fully included in decision-making, as should the harms of inaction.

According to the paper, the health benefits of action to reduce emissions include:

  • A low carbon transport system that involves more walking, cycling, or using public transport will reduce road traffic crashes, pedestrian and cyclist deaths, urban air pollution, and the impacts of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
  • A low fossil-fuel society necessarily means reducing animal-based foods in our diets. Moderation of the use of animal products will–by reducing the amount of saturated fat and meat in the diet–reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and bowel cancer, and similarly with carbon-intensive fats and refined sugars for the obesity pandemic.
  • Reduced rates of overweight and obesity, as well as obvious health improvements, will also reduce the climate change impacts of extra fuel consumption needed for transporting extra weight and contributing extra food consumption and waste. Food itself has important implications for climate change through production, distribution, quantity, composition, and waste.
  • Improvements in the efficiency of residential energy use could reduce mortality and morbidity from the extremes of heat and cold and reduce the vulnerability of the poor to fluctuations in the price of energy.

The article continues:

These important health co-benefits will dramatically reduce the cost to society from taking strong action to mitigate climate change, and thus failure to count these benefits could have serious consequences

The full article is not available on the web at the moment, but as soon as it is I will link to it here. In my view it provides an excellent overview of the issues as they confront New Zealand, and also issues a strong call to the medical community to advocate for action on climate change. Here’s the conclusion:

Health professionals cannot be inactive observers of this process. We have a significant role and responsibility to lead this challenge–and we must be involved wherever possible.

We have overspent our atmospheric resources and now need smart

sustainable solutions. The pace of climate change is accelerating.

Halving the current level of emissions is urgent, responsible, just, and possible.

Inaction would be negligence and malpractice on a global scale.

Negligence and malpractice on a global scale… Where does that leave New Zealand’s government, one wonders?