Batemans Bay GP Michelle Hamrosi reports growing numbers of patients presenting with climate-related health issues and says her anecdotal evidence supports The World Health Organization’s claim that climate change is regarded as the biggest threat to health in the 21st century.
“I’ve had a deluge of patients presenting with severe asthma and allergies this year and many of them have never had asthma before,” she says “I believe it’s the dry, windy conditions and high pollen counts, which are linked to weather patterns, which are responsible for the increase.”
But it’s not just more respiratory conditions that local doctors are seeing.
“With summer approaching and every summer hotter than the one before, with more days over 35 degrees and longer heatwaves, the medical profession is seeing an increase in mortality during hot weather,” Michelle explains “if you have a weak heart or kidneys, dehydration puts a huge strain on those organs and can cause kidney failure or a heart attack.”
Michelle witnessed this first hand at the Moruya Farmers Market on a stinking hot day in February this year.
“Someone came running over to get me because one of the stallholders had collapsed. I did CPR and a boy got the defibrillator from the pool and we got a rhythm before the ambulance got there. The lady had had a massive heart attack but she survived.”
The health effects of climate change are still not widely recognized, although Michelle says that medical journals are beginning to publish on the topic and she knows of a study which is currently underway in Hobart on the effects of heat on mortality and emergency presentation.
“It’s a significant concern for me as a doctor and I’m aware that my job is not just patient care but public health and advocacy. I’m calling on all doctors to speak out about the effects of the environment and climate on health.”
But it’s not easy to speak up.
“It’s a massive fear for me, putting myself out there because there are always people who will disagree. I wonder what my colleagues will say but I have to focus on what is important, which is my family and the health of the planet we live on.”
As one of the public supporters of Councillor Pat McGinlay’s motion that Eurobodalla Shire Council declares a climate emergency, which was voted down earlier this month, Michelle says that she will continue to push for the Eurobodalla to transition quickly to a zero-carbon community.
“Our planet has a fever, it’s sick and the health of the planet is affecting every one of us.”
“It’s so hard to continue to deny scientific papers are confirming our fears every day. I don’t want it to be real either,” Michelle says with tears in her voice “I’d love to ignore it and get on with raising my kids.”
For Michelle, the sixth child of Central European immigrants from World War II, aiming to reduce her families impact on the environment means returning to the values she grew up with.
“We’d re-use everything,” she laughs “it’s ingrained in me. So while my husband and I built the dream house and have the income, now when I go to buy something, I ask myself, do I really need this? Could I borrow it? Get it second hand?”
Michelle says that one person can change a whole social scene by deciding to buy vintage furniture rather than new, or buy a local product rather than using a mass-produced plastic alternative.
She also advises slowing down.
“If you forget your keep-cup, sit down and have coffee at the cafe rather than use a plastic takeaway coffee lid which you might need for five minutes but will sit in landfill for years. Don’t take the plastic straw – sip your drink from the cup.”
Starting small and celebrating small changes helps combat climate-related mental health issues.
“When we can’t get outside because of bush fire smoke, or high winds, when vulnerable people who can’t handle the heat are inside for weeks on end, this affects mental health,” Michelle says “and when people feel powerless and scared about what’s happening in our world and their concerns are falling on deaf ears, they feel a deep sense of loss.”
Michelle is one of the organisers of the Global Climate Strike in Moruya on September 20, you can join the action between 12pm and 2 pm on the lawn in front of Eurobodalla Shire Council. She is also a member of Doctors for the Environment.
For more information about what you can do in the Eurobodalla to combat climate change, request to join the Facebook group People Engaged in Action on Climate Eurobodalla (PEACE) or email [email protected]
Bega Valley Shire Council meets this afternoon (August 28) to debate a similar climate emergency motion to that of Cr McGinlay’s. Snowy Monaro Regional Council rejected a similar motion at its last meeting.