Healthcare workers staged a climate ‘die-in’ in Melbourne this morning with leading public health advocates, healthcare workers and community members are taking action outside the offices of what they say is Australia’s biggest climate polluter, AGL, warning that the health impacts of the climate crisis could dwarf the impacts of Covid-19.
AGL is currently reviewing its approach to climate change ahead of a proposed demerger, with a decision on its climate policy expected imminently.
The group of health activists, including doctors, nurses and other health professionals have set up a mock medical ward with dying patients to demonstrate the health impacts of air pollution and climate change, and are delivering an open letter signed by 25 Australian health organisations and over 600 healthcare workers calling for AGL to commit to replacing coal with renewable energy by 2030, in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation.
Climate crisis hit home during the Black Summer
Emergency physician and ED at Echuca Health, Dr Simon Judkins, said that as an emergency physician, the health impacts of the climate crisis hit home during the Black Summer bushfires. ‘I was treating patients suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation, saw others huddling in distress amidst the charred landscape surrounding them, and just this month we saw the Flying Doctor Service unable to take off due to extreme heat in Western Australia.
‘Without rapid action to replace coal as the biggest cause of climate change, our already stretched health system will struggle to provide the high-quality care that we all need and deserve.’
Frontline healthcare workers have seen the health impacts of climate change
President of the Australian Federation of Medical Women, Dr Magdalena Simonis, said as frontline healthcare workers, they’ve seen the deadly impacts of COVID-19. ‘But we’ve also seen the health impacts of climate change as heatwaves and bushfires continue to get more frequent and more severe.
‘As Australia’s biggest climate polluter, AGL must put people’s health first and commit to replacing coal with renewable energy this decade if we are to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.’
Associate Professor Lou Irving, from the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, said that burning coal was already harming people by emitting toxic air pollutants such as fine particulates, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide, exacerbating heart and lung conditions.
‘Toxic pollutants from burning coal exacerbate diseases such as childhood asthma and can reduce life expectancy for people within hundreds of kilometres of a power station, particularly those with existing heart and lung conditions,’ said Dr Irving.
AGL is a joint respondent in a court case brought by conservation group Environment Victoria seeking to limit air pollution and greenhouse gases from the power stations in the Latrobe Valley, and has had dozens of breaches for ash spills, exceeding air pollution limits and water contamination.