Access thebmj.com - The BMJ logo

David Pencheon: Not waving but talking

David Pencheon You may be aware that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), BMJ Editor-in-Chief Fiona Godlee, and the Campaign for Greener Healthcare hosted a meeting of health professionals at the RCN on Saturday as part of the Wave demonstration.  Here’s my contribution:

“The time is now.  As health professionals we have a duty of care, a duty to remind people we have no right to break a long established deal – that we leave this world in a better state than we found it – for everyone.

The time is now. We demonstrate today for people who have less choice and less voice than we do.  This is not about saving the planet – the planet will be fine, albeit less habitable – unpleasant for the rich and impossible for the poor.  But, of course, many poorer people already know this.  Many rich people do not know and do not want to know.  This is not about saving the planet, it’s about saving ourselves and preserving the interdependency which sustains everything and which makes life worth living.

Making a stand.

Is this important?  I think it’s the most important thing we’ll ever do.

Is this difficult? If you think helping a person addicted to heroin is tricky, try helping 6 billion people addicted to carbon.

Is this fair?  If you think the credit crunch is an obscene degree of borrowing from future generations, the climate crunch is an obscene, immoral and unforgivable theft.  We have no right to do this.

And the crazy thing is, not only do we do this knowingly, but the alternative: a safer, cleaner, fairer, healthier world is entirely possible.  We are complicit in destroying a world where all our children and where people who have far less opportunity than we do, could all have a decent future.  We are living off the past which is fine, but we are living off the future too, which is wrong.

The time is now.  The next three weeks will be the best time we’ll ever have to force a tipping point.  We will never have a better time to make this issue mainstream, not just in people’s minds but in people’s actions.

However, we need to be informed. Genuine change is  not stimulated  by empty rhetoric.  We all need to be aware of 2 degrees, 450 parts per million, 1 trillion tonnes, and contraction and convergence.  We need to know that adaptation, managing the unavoidable, is important, but that mitigation, avoiding the unmanageable, is even more important.

In fact, we are not really about avoiding a disaster.  Because the disaster has already happened – ask the poor in poorer countries.  We are about avoiding a catastrophe.  The convenient truth is that the money is available (the response to the credit crunch has shown that) and the technology is available (we already know we can decarbonise the European electricity supply with less effort and international collaboration than it has taken to run a war).  What is lacking is the will.

Today we will make a little piece of history – but only if this  advocacy and awareness raising is translated into consistent and sustained action:  implementing the social cost of carbon, and implementing contraction and convergence.

Many of us in this room today are part of one of the world’s largest workforces facing the world’s largest challenge. But don’t get mad, get active, and get 10 other people to get active too.

But above all, stay focussed and stay positive: Martin Luther King did not say “I have a nightmare.”  This country has the world’s highest cumulative emissions per capita.  Health professionals are the most respected people in this country.  If we do not make a stand:  if we do not ensure that this about lines in the sand, not heads in the sand, then we are failing everyone. There is no they, It’s us, it’s we, it’s you, it’s me.

This is happening on our watch, it will be our legacy.  The time is now.

See also:

Maisie & George and the future of the planet

The BMJ has commissioned a video about the impact of climate change on babies born today, and how the NHS can reduce its carbon footprint.