Doctors have welcomed a report released yesterday on how Southland can grow good jobs without destroying the climate.
NZ Climate & Health Council spokesperson Dr Scott Metcalfe says “The ‘View to the South’ report, by leading economics consultancy firm BERL, is a healthy vision for Southland’s future. This is welcome news because our future health and survival depends on greenhouse gas emissions reductions to protect our climate.”
BERL’s report outlines diverse growth areas of forestry, engineering, education and horticulture/crops creating more than three thousand new jobs. These draw on Southland’s tried- and-true strengths and give healthy reasons for young Southlanders to stay. Forestry expansion is the biggest suggested job generator, soaking up carbon emissions and potentially building renewable energy independence.
OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council are senior doctors and other health professionals concerned with climate change as a serious public health threat, and say that New Zealand needs to rapidly reduce its lethal greenhouse gas emissions. The Council, alongside world health authorities, states that climate change’s impact on health and health services is the leading risk to global health this century. The burning of fossil fuels, including the risk of mining Southland’s vast reserves of dirty lignite, is the main cause of this health crisis.
“Meeting our international responsibilities to addressing climate change means rapidly moving to a low carbon economy. Doing so can have sizeable health and economic gains by reducing major diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as create a fairer society”, says Dr Metcalfe. “Keeping new coal and lignite in the ground is vital to this transition”.
In contrast to BERL’s report, ailing state-owned company Solid Energy threatens to mine and process Southland’s lignite. Southland has about 3.5 billion tonnes of this low energy, low value form of coal. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has warned that mining Southland’s lignite means greenhouse gases equal to about 70 years of New Zealand’s current emissions. “This completely undermines everyone else’s efforts to reduce emissions”, says Dr Metcalfe.
“Our farming and fisheries exports also rely on slowing the changing climate and acidifying ocean. This means leaving lignite deposits in the ground.”
Dr Metcalfe concludes: “BERL’s report confirms Southland’s natural advantages as a valuable food basket and generator of renewable energy. We support Southlanders in choosing a future that is rich in jobs, healthy and hopeful for everyone.”
OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council is calling on Councils to create real cycling facilities on key commuter routes. Yesterday’s coroner’s inquest into the tragic death of British nurse Jane Bishop on Tamaki Drive highlighted the dangerous infrastructure widespread in our cities.
Whether or not the crash investigators decide that the road layout at the site of Jane Bishop’s death contributed to her death, the road layout in all New Zealand cities increases the risk of cycling death and injury every day. Successive national and local governments have failed to acknowledge the important and legitimate role of cycling as a mode of travel. They have also failed to create an environment that is safe, based on accepted international best practice.
Inadequate investment in cycling and poorly developed cycling infrastructure continues despite the well-documented health gains from cycling. “Creating environments that encourage safe everyday cycling in cities is one of the important steps local governments can take to address climate change while benefiting health”, says Dr Macmillan. She adds: “As well as building healthy exercise back into people’s lives it is also a very low cost form of transport, which helps create a fairer society.”
The spoiler is New Zealand’s shameful cyclist injury rate – which is currently the subject of the joint coroner’ inquiry being held around the country.
“Jane Bishop’s tragic death was not an ‘accident’, brought on by unfortunate circumstances, as argued at the hearing”, she said. Nor was it confined to a case of personal error, as was also argued. Her death was preventable, like all the deaths being investigated in this inquiry.”
“The bottom line”, says Dr Macmillan “is that we need a significant investment in safe road design and cycle facilities now, and that issues such as high visibility clothing and cyclist education are peripheral.”
Dr's George Laking and Scott Metcalfe letter. Discusses the human price of coal burning, via contribution to climate change. The Press, July 14, 2012.
With the Government announcing a go-slow on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), New Zealand’s Climate and Health Council, OraTaiao, is calling on Minister Tim Groser to explain just how the Government will deliver its promised climate pollution cuts.
OraTaiao co-leader, Dr Rhys Jones, asks whether the Government understands the science and urgency of the global climate crisis. Dr Jones explains that the independent UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) review team reported eighteen months ago that New Zealand did not have plans to meet two-thirds of our promised climate emissions cuts. ‘Climate change is the most important global health issue of the 21st century, already causing significant deaths and misery. Watering down the already inadequate Emissions Trading Scheme as announced yesterday only makes this situation worse.’
‘The reality is that we don’t have an effective Emissions Trading Scheme, because prices are capped at what amounts to $12.50 per tonne, about half of the Australian carbon tax’ says Dr Jones. He explains: ‘Taxpayers will bear most of the costs of highly polluting companies who are escalating emissions and mocking the efforts of many New Zealanders to live more sustainably’.
The New Zealand Climate and Health Council calls on the Government to move beyond limiting the climate crisis to a ‘greenie’ issue and face up to the broader implications for New Zealand. It explains that ignoring the threat of climate change will impose enormous social, economic and health costs on current and future generations of New Zealanders. Dr Jones says a large body of research shows that smarter, sustainable lifestyles can lead to significant improvements in health. ‘By subsidising polluters, we forego these opportunities to improve health and wellbeing, while further entrenching a 20th century, fossil fuel-based economy. The changes announced yesterday to our so-called Emissions Trading Scheme are yet another disappointing step backwards for New Zealand’ ends Dr Jones.
Saying No to coal in Westport would help restore confidence in our international environmental promises and save hundreds of lives, senior doctors argue
Senior doctors are in Westport today calling for a halt to proposals for new coal mining on the West Coast. Applications by Solid Energy before the West Coast District Council and Buller Regional Council are to open new areas of the Stockton Plateau to open cast coal mining. These doctors represent OraTaiao, the New Zealand Climate & Health Council. They are there to highlight the clear and present dangers of new coal mining to local, national and global health.
“New coal extraction has to be one of the worst things we can do for social, environmental and economic wellbeing as well as going against our international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, says Dr Alex Macmillan, co-founder of the NZ Climate & Health Council. “The WWF report released today highlights our failure as a nation to meet any of our international commitments to the environment over the past two decades. Allowing any new coal mining really makes a mockery to those commitments and supports the WWF claims.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) last year stated that if fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will lose forever the chance to avoid dangerous climate change. “All political parties in New Zealand acknowledge the seriousness of climate change and the need for action to protect the planet from the devastating effects of runaway climate change. Yet the Government is pursuing an aggressive increase in coal mining”, Dr Macmillan says.
“Climate change is the most important public health issue facing us this century. We need to get back to a safe energy balance for the health of today’s people and tomorrow’s”, says Dr Macmillan. “This is possible with concerted effort on the parts of all governments and communities. But the only way we can leave a healthy climate is to rapidly phase out coal extraction and burning.”
Adds Dr Macmillan: “The legal frameworks in New Zealand are failing to protect human health from climate change in this country”. She argues that the combination of weak resource management and an ineffective emissions trading scheme effectively brush the dangers under the carpet during resource consent hearings. “But despite attempts to silence the most important arguments against coal, as doctors our duty to protect the health of their patients, as well as the health of the wider community, is clear.”
OraTaiao submission to the Ministry for the Environment on Updating the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme. May 2012.
Opponents point out hazards of lignite plant. Dr Russell Tregonning. Otago Daily Times 18 Jan 2012.
Despite the known health hazards of coal mining, in September 2010, Bill English opened state-owned Solid Energy's pilot scheme near Mataura, to convert 150,000 tonnes of lignite to briquettes (dehydrated lignite used as a solid fuel). This was the first step in the creation of what may be New Zealand's largest industrial project.
The Public Health Association’s (PHA) annual conference at Lincoln University was told today that developing strategies to manage climate change is one of the most critical issues faced by New Zealand’s public health professionals.
“Climate change is the defining public health issue of the 21st century,” Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) from the University of Auckland told the conference today.
“Global climate change threatens the very foundations of health for human populations. Our health and wellbeing depends on having stable social, cultural and economic conditions, and sustainable natural ecosystems. Climate change will have major adverse effects on all these things”, Dr Jones said.
Examples include unprecedented spread of infectious diseases, a dramatic reduction in global food production, and more natural disasters.
“It’s real and it’s happening. Globally, we are already experiencing more frequent and severe weather events, including extremes of hot and cold, floods and droughts. The effects will become much more serious as the temperature increases.”
Dr Jones stressed that action to prevent the worst effects of climate change is urgently required.
“We know exactly what is required to avoid these catastrophic outcomes – we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions dramatically and quickly. The longer we leave it the more difficult it will be to stay within safe thresholds.”
Public health professionals have expressed frustration that this critical action is being obstructed by vested interests.
“One of the major problems is that, despite overwhelming scientific consensus, many New Zealanders remain unconvinced about the threat of climate change and the need to act urgently. This is largely due to a formidable public disinformation campaign that seeks to foster doubt in the public mind. Our government therefore lacks the mandate from its citizens to take necessary action.
“As a result, instead of promoting active transport and moving to renewable energy sources, our government is investing heavily in major motorway projects and supporting proposals to extract lignite. These actions encourage increased emissions, the direct opposite of what we know we should be doing.”
Dr Jones argues that public health professionals have an important role to play in confronting the ‘denial industry’.
“We are used to challenging corporate interests that clearly endanger public health – tobacco control is an obvious example. Climate change is an even bigger threat, and we have a responsibility to speak out in order to protect the wellbeing of current and future generations.”
[Dr Jones is co-convenor of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health, an organisation comprising senior doctors and other health professionals concerned about the effects of climate change on population health. The group is part of a worldwide movement of health professional authorities seeking to address the daunting health challenges posed by climate change.]
For our health we must end fossil fuel dependency, Dr George Laking. Dominion Post 17 June 2011
Some people don’t like doctors speaking out about things outside the “health sector”, as some letter writers to The Dominion Post have made clear (May 11, 16, 18, 19).
But one of my tasks as a doctor is to advise about things that may seriously affect the future health of my patients and their families.
Phipps, Randerson, Blashki. Paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal, April 2011. Material from the New Zealand Medical Journal is hosted on the OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health website with the permission of the New Zealand Medical Association. OraTaiao gratefully acknowledges this permission. Read here.