December was an important month in the struggle to avert human-induced climate change. First, Ed Miliband, the UK energy and climate change minister, called for mass action to pressure governments into signing a meaningful deal to battle global warming at critical UN talks in Copenhagen in December 2009. Second, fifty seven activists obstructed Stansted Airport runway. Of these, fifty were arrested for aggravated trespass, three for trying to enter a restricted area and four on conspiracy to commit a public nuisance. Twenty two of the first group admitted the charge, presumably on legal advice, and were served community service orders. This is despite the decision of a jury only a few weeks earlier in favour of the six activists who painted “Gordon” on Kingsnorth power station. These six were deemed legally justified because they were trying to prevent climate change causing greater damage to property around the world.
For the Stansted intruders, presumably the argument was that the damage inflicted – to the perimeter fence and to aeroplane schedules – was disproportionate.
It is hard to escape the conclusion from the Kingsnorth verdict that climate change activism was legitimated as a just cause. Such activism should now be construed as not only morally right, but driven by necessity. In other words it is inaction which is morally wrong. The Kingsnorth chimney painters should be thought of as front line public health activists: their action may well save lives. The influence of a threatened civil claim from Ryanair may well have held greater sway than whether the Stansted intruders were right or wrong.
Health professionals can no longer stand by and let others make all the running. In the crucial few months between now and December 2009, we need to set an example, and emphasise the central importance to global and personal health of global decarbonisation. And, as Ed Milliband enjoins, we must mobilise ourselves to apply pressures on our governments to sign a meaningful deal in Copenhagen. If you haven’t signed already, one small but significant non-violent step is to sign the pledge proposed by the Climate and Health Council – to protect health through active engagement to limit the causes of human-caused climate change – to advocate the establishment of a global, systematic, and consistent approach, led and implemented by governments NOW, based on an agreed global framework.
Our aim is to have so many signatures from health professionals by March that we can then enthuse the public to ask their doctor and any health professionals they come across whether they’ve yet signed it. This pledge signed by many thousands of health professionals around the world will be presented to those involved in the negotiations before and at Copenhagen. Just click on http://www.climateandhealth.org/getinvolved/pledge/ and sign.
Mike Gill is co-chair of the Climate and Health Council and was regional director of public health for the South East Region from 1998-2006.