Tony Waterston on an inspirational lunch

Tony WaterstonCan a book launch set the mind afire? Unlikely – sounds more a chance to get cheap copies and the author’s autograph and maybe some nice canapés. But the launch I attended this week for the ‘Health practitioners’ guide to climate change’ (Jenny Griffiths et al, published by Earthscan) was indeed inspirational. It was partly the inspired speeches – and partly the perceptive audience, specially invited so no doubt especially knowledgeable.

Speeches came from Defra, the London School of Hygiene, the author (of course) and the climate and health council, which has worked closely with the BMJ to raise climate awareness among health professionals. In a sense, such speeches could be horribly depressing – where is the good news in climate change? But these speakers did offer a positive vision – in two memorable ways. First, we need to assert to politicians the supremacy of health over economics as the driving factor for our country’s future. And second, the health benefits of a low carbon society are huge, and should be talked up much more. These health benefits – strongly described in the book –will particularly affect the young, through more exercise, less pollution and a less meat-based and more locally produced diet.

It was also made clear that the NHS must move towards decarbonisation. This idea will need much advocacy to enter the demoralised, over-managed world of hospitals and Trusts in which we live.

The discussion lived up to the level of the invited audience. The DFID rep asked, what should their policies be in poor countries? The answer – stop supporting roads building, which is not likely to lead to less carbon use. How are we to persuade politicians that growth is the problem not the solution? No answer to this except that the publishers of the health guide are producing another book on this very subject..
And finally, to the questioner who said we cannot be optimistic and must speak up about the grim scenario we face ahead – the answer was – we need a positive vision: Martin Luther King’s words were not “ I have a nightmare”, but “I have a dream”..

And the book itself? A very fine – and informative – read with lots of good ideas for practical action. I recommend buying three now, one for yourself and one each for your clinical director and CEO. We don’t have too long to get the message over.

Tony Waterston is a paediatrician in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, working mainly in the community with long term conditions, disability, child abuse and social and mental health concerns. His interests are in child public health, children’s rights and global child health and he leads the RCPCH teaching programme in the occupied Palestinian territories.