Medical professionals in the Eurobodalla have signed a petition seeking action to reduce emissions to protect public health as part of a national campaign kickstarted locally by general practitioner Dr Michelle Hamrosi, who works from Surf Beach Surgery, near Batemans Bay.
“The majority of doctors from our practise have signed, along with many others who work at the hospital or practise in Moruya,” Dr Hamrosi says.
The Australian Conservation Foundation has coordinated the petition and open letter to Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Dr Hamrosi is the first of more than 700 medical professionals nationally who have signed the open letter, which expresses professional concern about the Hon Angus Taylor MP fulfilling his responsibilities as Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction.
The letter outlines Mr Taylor’s alleged failure to protect Australians and says his office allocated public money to gas and other polluting fossil fuel projects while overseeing a 50 per cent decline in large-scale renewables investment since 2018-2019.
“We are health professionals and organisations bearing witness to the harm Mr Taylor’s failure to reduce emissions is causing to the health of Australians,” says the letter. “Public health is inextricably linked to climate health. Climate damage is here now and it is killing people.”
Dr Judy Toman, a general practitioner and obstetrician in Moruya, was among those who signed the petition.
“The Black Summer bushfire crisis, in which climate change played a key factor, had an extremely negative impact on my patients – particular the pregnant mums and infants,” Dr Toman says.
“The longer-term mental health impact and trauma are continuing to be felt throughout our communities. Our government needs to do everything in their power to reduce our greenhouse emissions to protect our health now and that of future generations .”
The letter also states that Mr Taylor has failed to commit Australia to a 2050 net-zero emissions target in line with the Paris Agreement.
“Every Australian state and territory government, major business and industry group, major civil society group and the national farmers’ body has committed to a net zero by 2050 target,” continues the letter. “Under Mr Taylor’s watch, the Federal Government now stands alone in refusing to commit to this target.”
According to Dr Hamrosi, this is a crucial time for Australia and the planet in addressing the climate crisis.
“Australia has one of the largest greenhouse gas emissions and the highest per capita emissions in the world, and is one of the largest exporters of coal and gas,” she says.
After living through the past summer’s bushfires, Dr Hamrosi is even more certain that climate change is the biggest risk to public health we face.
“Thirty-three lives were lost Australia wide during the fires and more than 400 deaths were attributed to smoke pollution. This is the cost of climate inaction,” she says.
Along with the direct health impacts of an extreme bushfire season, Australians are seeing increased rates of respiratory illness, diarrhea and morbidity requiring hospital admission during hot days, and higher rates of suicide in rural areas during drought years, says Dr Hamrosi.
“The annual cost to Australia from air pollution mortality alone is estimated to be $11.1 billion-$24.3 billion and this is driven predominantly by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and gas, which also causes global warming,” she says.
“Pollution is a silent killer, linked to the premature deaths of 3000 Australians each year. Higher levels of air pollution are also associated with increased illness and death related to ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive airways disease, lung cancer and asthma, and also with adverse outcomes in pregnancy, including low birth weight and stillbirth.”
Dr Hamrosi says it’s a “kick in the guts to our communities” to see the direction Mr Taylor and the Morrison Government is heading.
“As we prepare for a future of worsening bushfires, floods, soaring temperatures and storms, we must address the root cause: worsening climate change,” she says.
“I’m a passionate advocate for seeing our country focus on a healthy and green recovery post-COVID-19, as are many of the doctors in the Eurobodalla who have also signed this letter. Climate solutions are also solutions for healthier communities, towns and cities.”