4 November 2020

South Coast doctor leads emissions-reduction campaign to protect our health

| Elka Wood
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NSW South Coast doctor Michelle Hamrosi.

Surf Beach doctor Michelle Hamrosi is calling for action on climate change. Photo: Supplied.

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 .”

Dr Michelle Hamrosi and daughter at a climate change protest.

Dr Michelle Hamrosi at a climate change protest this year. Photo: Supplied.

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.

READ ALSO Bushfires sear the need for change into nation’s consciousness

“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.

READ ALSO Andrew Constance says climate change responsible for extreme bushfires

“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.”


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Jesse H Rowan11:53 am 08 Nov 20

Bravo Dr Hamrosi for speaking out. As well as direct damage and deaths due to bushfires and smoke inhalation, the indirect effects of climate change are disastrous for our mental health. Anxiety over the inaction of our government leaders to actually begin acting responsibly to curb the root cause of climate heating – burning fossil fuels – and the long-term effects of the trauma left by bushfires on communities across Australia is a huge problem still largely unaddressed, with economic, community and personal consequences. With the US election of Biden, it is heartening to see Morrison actually suggesting he might be ready to address climate change (noting that this was second only to the Covid 19 pandemic in Biden’s immediate action list.) Perhaps there is hope for the world yet that leaders will work together for a safer future.

Nienke Haantjens7:41 pm 07 Nov 20

good on her for standing up and speaking out!

Thanks, Dr Michelle Hamrosi and the more than 700 other health professionals for taking this up with the Federal Government on our behalf. That is an action entirely consistent with your duty-of-care as health professionals. Deliberately ignoring the science, the economists, the health professionals is an action entirely inconsistent with the Federal Government’s duty-of-care.

Morrison and Taylor respond to questions with lies and spin. Expressions like “technology-neutral” and “technology not taxes” are sad, transparent attempts to pretend they are being wise and fair when really they are stalling for time. And, given the march of climate change, and the effects it’s already and increasingly having, intentional delay is treason. Not just to Australia, but the world at large.

Sukalpa Goldflam10:01 am 07 Nov 20

Great article, so important.
Great work Dr Hamrosi, thankyou !

Thank you so much Dr Hamrosi for taking a stand for the health of your patients. It’s most appreciated.

I write to convey my full support for Dr Michelle Hamrosi’s national campaign. Australia had one of the highest levels of air pollution in the world during the 2019-2020 Black Summer. This is highly concerning because inhaling bushfire smoke will allow ultrafine and fine pollution particles to penetrate the human body through the lungs; causing numerous health problems.

Several of my friends, all of whom were fit and healthy adults, developed respiratory tract infections from the bushfire smoke. Some even had to be hospitalised. My friends were lucky enough to recover fully, but others have not been so fortunate.
The good doctors of Australia are calling out on the federal government for urgent action on climate change, warning that climate change is a public health emergency. This is the wake up call for us all to each send a strong message to our politicians. Our federal government needs to step up and act on genuinely reducing our emissions. Our and our children’s health depend on it.

Dr Nadine Hills - Psychologist, PhD (Clin Psych)9:09 pm 06 Nov 20

As a Psychologist I stand behind Dr Hamrosi and medical professionals. The changing climate with associated bush-fires has had devastating impact on our local people. We need to make policy changes while we still can, drawing on natural energy sources (sun, wind, wave energy) to power our country energy needs. It is possible! This is a point about survival! We owe it to the future.

I agree totally and am pleased to see it. The pressure is on now.

Matthew Nott11:51 am 06 Nov 20

Go Michelle, well said!

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