11 September 2019

Batemans Bay's Dr Hamrosi says "our health is already being affected by climate change"

| Elka Wood
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A passionate environmental advocate, Bateman's Bay doctor Michelle Hamrosi says that climate change is impacting the health of local people. Photo: Supplied.

A passionate environmental advocate, Bateman’s Bay doctor Michelle Hamrosi says that climate change is impacting the health of local people. Photo: Supplied.

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.”

Michelle was among those asking for a climate emergency declaration from Eurobodalla Shire council. Photo: Supplied.

Michelle was among those asking for a climate emergency declaration from Eurobodalla Shire council. Photo: Supplied.

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.”

Michelle and husband Luke Mitchell, also a doctor, have three kids. Photo: Supplied.

Michelle and husband Luke Mitchell, also a doctor, have three kids. Photo: Supplied.

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.

Being able to safely be outside and be active are important aspects to health, says Dr. Michelle Hambrosi.

Being able to safely be outside and be active are important aspects to health, says Dr. Michelle Hambrosi. Photo: Supplied.

“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.

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I heard Dr Hamrosi interviewed on ABC Radio national this morning. She made the statement “These mega fires are fuelled by climate change” and “we need to have a national approach to climate change in this country”. Noting Dr Hamrosi is one who would be best described as a ‘climate change activist’ the question remains, so what is it that you are proposing? Or is this simply another Thunberg style complaint – all accusations, wild claims and assumptions but no practical solutions and very little understanding of the issues?
With respect I believe Marisa (comments below) has a point.
Dr Hamrosi also made the assertion on the ABC that she doubted Australia would be a liveable place very soon. This is the problem when one imagines ‘my whole world is the whole world’. Blinkered activism often prevents one seeing the big picture. I live in FNQ and I can tell Dr Hamrosi I have no such fears about the liveability of Australia. Right now, the rains that even BOM did not see coming a fortnight ago, are here drenching vast tracts of drought riven northern Australia. It may be tough in Batemans Bay right now but if you would like a piece of Paradise move to FNQ.

These stories need to be told Elka….thank you….some people are so blinkered about the changes happening to our environment caused by erratic weather conditions of extreme warming & cool, dry & wet, storms & flooding…perhaps out of fear…we are one earth and humans will always seek information to support their own paradigm. I would like to understand why Marisa thinks our global situation is all hype….perhaps a story from her point of view would help myself and others understand her belief, where she is sourcing her facts in support of denial and what is her understanding regarding such catastrophic fire conditions, not only in Australia but globally. Melisa is not alone in her paradigm.

All I can say is that you also are delusional.
If people are coming to you regarding the climate! Then they are just caught up in the hype of out of control hysteria.

Bamyan Blanc2:34 pm 30 Aug 19

You may be reluctant to voice your opinion for the naysayers on patrol yet better to say something and be wrond rather than not say anything and be right ,as they say evil only triumphs when good people say nothing and when its the planet at stake, speak up

Nienke Haantjensn7:32 pm 28 Aug 19

Great article, thanks again Elka

David Harris10:28 am 28 Aug 19

Excellent article which propels us all to educate ourselves and others and to stay vigilant and active.

Erika Cleaver8:05 am 28 Aug 19

Wonderful to see a local doctor stick out her neck to declare a climate emergency. I will join PEACE to help raise awareness and act before it is too late.

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