A LEADING Australian academic says doctors have a responsibility to provide guidance and leadership about climate change action.

Laureate Professor Nick Talley, AC, the Editor-in-Chief of the MJA, is one of 20 editors of medical journals worldwide who have co-authored an editorial released simultaneously globally on Monday 6 September 2021, including in the MJA.

“Doctors are people who are highly respected, and we also contribute to global warming directly in the health system,” Professor Talley told InSight+.

“We can do something about that directly as a group. Every individual doctor who takes action, every hospital that takes action, every health system that takes action, potentially can improve things and also demonstrate to others that this is critically important.

“And the opposite also applies. If doctors take no action or deliberately don’t do anything, others may say, ‘well, the doctors don’t think it’s important, why should we think it’s important’. The idea that ‘we just treat the patient in front of us’ is not appropriate.”

The editorial is a call for urgent action to “keep average global temperature increases below 1.5°C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health”.

“The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse,” the authors wrote.

“Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with COVID-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.

“We are united in recognising that only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory.”

Professor Talley said that Australia had a responsibility as a wealthy nation to help lead climate change action.

“We have a major responsibility. Our lack of sufficient action has been an encouragement to those who’ve also not wished to take sufficient action or reaction,” he said.

“That is continuing to this day. We have an influence not just on what we do locally, and nationally, but also globally.

“If every country doesn’t talk together soon, there will be some countries that will disappear, and worse, there will be a lot of people who will die. It’s very clear.”

Professor Talley said he was concerned that the urgency of the situation was not getting through to governments and populations.

“The urgency of the situation is remarkable, yet the penetration of that urgency remains not where it needs to be,” he said.

“It’s very clear, we have a very, very serious problem.

“The best advice I’ve had on this is we will not be able to turn this around in time. Most likely we will overshoot the temperatures that we’ve been worried about, and then we might be able to pull it back. But I worry about the ‘might’.

“I’ve also heard the argument that we should wait for technology to catch up, and it could potentially solve the problems for us. That’s possible, but we cannot guarantee that at all.

“It’s irresponsible of us, this generation, to not pull out all the stops while we can, in an attempt to minimise the very severe health and general consequences of climate change.”

The authors of the editorial wrote that “the greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature”.

“Urgent, society-wide changes must be made and will lead to a fairer and healthier world. We, as editors of health journals, call for governments and other leaders to act, marking 2021 as the year that the world finally changes course.”


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Doctors have a responsibility to advocate for urgent climate change action








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11 thoughts on “Climate change: time for the world to “change course”

  1. Andrew Whan says:

    Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time – much bigger than Covid-19. Congratulations to the AMA for trying to advance the absolute urgency of this. We need all countries to act to have a chance at success but countries like Australia should be leading this and professions like medicine should be leading this. We can’t afford not to act aggressively on climate change – there is no planet B. I can’t understand how some doctors choose not to follow the science in this. I cannot understand how people with children and grandchildren don’t see this as the most critical priority for all of us.

  2. Jon Phipps, Kiama, 2533. says:

    Since I retired last year, I have been writing a book about Climate change and what measures will help reduce the catastrophe ahead, including measures for sea level rise, carbon sinks and other measures. Replanting the tropics . The great tree planting that China has done to stop the desert encroachment is really the first major blow against C.C..

  3. Anonymous says:

    So Cate Swannell at MJA-Insight writes an adulatory piece about the Editor of MJA.

    Ho-hum.

  4. A/Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM says:

    Thank you to Professor Talley, Cate Swannell and the MJA for taking leadership in this space! We are grateful for all your efforts.
    The science is clear climate change due to human activity is happening and we have the resources and capacity to act and remedy the situation, including assistance for poorer countries.
    Attention to improving air pollution by moving away from fossil fuels is a good start, and protecting our forests and planting more trees – not only does it help address air pollution, produce cleaner air, but it also helps mitigate climate change and reduces morbidity and mortality! Thank you!

  5. Michel Cucchi says:

    We must leave a thermo-industrial health system towards a sustainable one, in an ecological and ethical way.

  6. Sensible specialist doctor says:

    Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions are IRRELEVANT to the temperature of our planet.

    China is emitting (at least) 14 000 million tons of CO2 annually. This is increasing. Australia is emitting 400 million tons of carbon dioxide yearly. This is decreasing.

    If CO2 is the cause of Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate Destruction, then China is the problem..

  7. Guy van Hazel says:

    Once again we have great men making ex- cathedral statements such as “the science is unequivocal”. Is this the up market version of “! The science is settled”?
    The IPCC was never tasked to study the positive effects of climate change and there are many. The fact that climate change is anthropogenic is far from proven and the health effects again concentrate on the possible negative and ignore the positive
    I assume you will be publishing your article in China and demanding that they reduce their emissions or are you just content to destroy Australia’s economy, knowing that China emits more carbon in a day than Australia emits in a year.
    Thank God I resigned from the AMA years ago and therefore have not subsidised this nonsense.

  8. Finlay Macrae says:

    Every craft group within our profession should be addressing this issue, with dedicated attention to what each can do. Healthcare is a huge user of resources and carbon generation.

  9. David Henderson says:

    This is virtue signalling. There are many considerations in taking action, including the cost, the fact that Australia is doing quite well compared to many countries that have made so-called promises , that we contribute a tiny fraction of the world’s emissions and the fact that China is the biggest emitter in the world and is very unlikely to follow any example set by Australia.

    A lot of the so-called action in Australia and elsewhere has been purely symbolic, such as blowing up power stations. Similarly, setting targets and without a plan is also symbolic only. Not surprisingly, emissions have reduced during the pandemic, because reductions in industry and travel, which points to the way in which poorly panned “action” will have on the community.

    Persuading President Xi to reduce emissions might have more effect that a rush to action

  10. Dr Sandra L J Johnson says:

    There is no doubt in my mind that doctors, as influencers in society, have a responsibility to make governments accountable on issues that relate to climate change. The science is clear and we need to act soon to protect this beautiful earth for our children and future generations.

  11. Dr Jill Gordon says:

    Not only as doctors, but as parents and grandparents, the need to respond is clear.

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