“Climate change poses an immediate, growing and grave threat to the health and security of people in both developed and developing countries around the globe.

“Climate change leads to more frequent and extreme weather events and to conditions that favour the spread of infectious diseases. Rising sea levels, floods and droughts cause loss of habitat, water and food shortages, and threats to livelihood. These trigger conflict within and between countries.

“Humanitarian crises will further burden military resources through the need for rescue missions and aid. Mass migration will also increase, triggered by both environmental stress and conflict, thus leading to serious further security issues. It will often not be possible to adapt meaningfully to these changes, and the economic cost will be enormous.

“As in medicine, prevention is the best solution.”

This is the introduction to a statement issued yesterday from a conference in London on the health and security implications of climate change. It was held at BMA (British Medical Association) House and convened by the BMJ.

It stands in such stark contrast to the focus of so much of the public debate in Australia since the House of Reps passed the carbon tax legislation last week.

The BMJ’s conference blurb notes that the event was “borne of an unlikely alliance – between health leaders and military experts. Frustration at the slow progress in tackling the causes of climate change at national and international level led to a series of discussions and an editorial in the BMJ. From these beginnings, a loose partnership of concerned organisations has emerged, with a common aim of highlighting the urgent need for action.”

The conference blurb describes climate change as “the greatest current threat to public health”. It says: “This is the view shared by Dr Margaret Chan, director general of WHO, and a growing number of the world’s health professionals. Less well known is the view of leading military experts – those working to prevent and manage conflicts around the world: that climate change is also the greatest future threat to security.”

You can read the full conference statement here.

The conference recommendations include calling for developed countries to adopt more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, to increase their support for low carbon development and to invest in further research into the impact of climate change on health and security.

As well, all governments are urged to enact legislative and regulatory change to stop the building of new unabated coal-fired power stations and phase out the continuing operation of existing plants prioritising lignite generation as most harmful to health.


“Don’t underestimate the enemy”

The BMJ Editor-in-Chief, Dr Fiona Godlee, was tweeting from the conference, and here are some of her reports (the conference program gives the titles of the speakers she quotes):

Have just opened #healthandsecurity climatechange.bmj.com conference. Michael Jay – don’t need hype, hard headed science is scarey enough

Chris Rapley, British Antarctic Survey #healthandsecurity, sea levels rising at 3.5 cm per year due to ocean warming and ices melting

Chris Rapley:Is the climate warming, is it us, does it matter, and should we do something about it? Yes, yes, yes and yes

Chris Rapley #healthandsecurity lower and mid atmospheric layers are warming while stratosphere is cooling so CC not due to sun warming up

Hugh Montomgery: we are in the midst of the greatest and fastest mass extinction ever

Tony McMichael: global crop yields will decline as photosynthesis slows when average temperatures rise above 40 C

Jon Snow: all private cars should be banned in central London.Resounding applause from this audience

Tim Lang: the public health sector is pathetic and I speak from inside it. Going to have to radically change our diet

Paul Wilkinson: many changes needed to tackle climate change will be good for our health and quality of life

Malcolm Green: Don’t underestimate the enemy on climate change. Huge vested interests. We need courage, money, a strategy

Delegates at climatechange.bmj.com call for us all to put heads above parapets: “We should all be full time activists”.


Armed forces keen to reduce carbon footprint

Meanwhile, the BBC reported on the conference, citing research suggesting that climate impacts will make conflict more likely, by increasing competition for scare but essential resources such as water and food.

Military officers at the meeting also emphasised the interest that armed forces have in reducing their own carbon footprint. Several officers admitted that armed forces were “the gas-guzzlers of the world” – and while that was sometimes necessary in operations, reducing fossil fuel use and adopting renewables wherever possible made sense from economic and tactical points of view.

The Global Campaign for Climate Action features interviews with some of the conference speakers.


Meanwhile, in Australia….

Australian public health experts have urged health organisations to support carbon pricing.

In this recent article, Carbon pricing is a health protection policy, in The Medical Journal of Australia (full access only to subscribers), they say that “…a carbon price is especially in the interests of those with low incomes, whose lives will be more disrupted by climate change than will the lives of the wealthy, and among whom the negative health impacts will be greater.”

The back story to this article – concerns about a recent Royal Australasian College of Physicians media statement on climate change  – is explained in previous Croakey posts (and in somewhat more direct language than in the MJA article…)


Investigating the connections and claims of the anti-wind farm lobby

In case you missed them, Crikey recently published two articles from public health advocate Professor Simon Chapman investigating the links between individuals and organisations opposing wind farms, and the credibility of research cited by them.

• The web of vested interests behind the anti-wind farm lobby

• Latest windfarm research is a load of hot air


Who in health is backing green causes?

Also well worth reading is Guy Pearse’s recent analysis of The Climate Movement in The September issue of The Monthly.

One of the philanthropists supporting climate change action who received a mention is Robert Purves, who has a number of health industry links, including as the former chair and major shareholder of health group DCA.

(Sourcewatch has more biographical detail, as does this University of Sydney citation).

The Monthly reported that Purves has given millions of dollars to the WWF, is the primary sponsor of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, supports the core global team running Earth Hour, and funded a stack of other such groups and initiatives. Pearse also wrote: “Few people realise that Purves substantially funded the writing and extensive promotion of Tim Flannery’s book The Weather Makers.”


Update, 19 Oct

Further to the London conference, Julian Sheather, ethics manager at the BMJ, suggests that we are in the grips of “mass collective denial” about climate change.

He writes: “…if the climate change predictions are reliable – and it is likely that they are – and the results of the continuing rise in carbon production are as catastrophic as they are predicted to be, why do we continue as if nothing in the world has changed? Scientists are close to unanimous about the problem. The solution: a global economy based on green energy sources, is both well-established and technologically feasible. So why is it that even those who are fully signed up to the problem behave almost without exception as if nothing is happening? We drive, we fly, we consume, we gorge on unnecessary calories, we clamour for economic growth. How is it that, to judge by our behaviour rather than our pious words, even the best educated among us refuse to accept the truth?”

Sheather says he went home from the BMJ conference feeling “desolate”.

“It would seem that the long day of economic growth driven by fossil fuel consumption is waning. The shadows are lengthening. And unless the motivation for real change can be found, the night ahead of us will be long and dark and we may not recognise ourselves when we emerge from it.”