Cycling home this week without a coat and thinking of a barbecue, one had to be reminded that it is only February. 20 degrees Celsius has never been recorded before in the UK in February, and this uncharacteristically warm weather should ring alarm bells.
While discussions about the existence of man-made climate change have almost ceased, there seems to still be a persistent idea that it will not affect us, that it is a thing of the distant future—a problem for future generations to deal with. Thousands of striking school children have made clear that, rightly, they are not happy with that approach. We are living through a climate breakdown which is causing wildfires, crop failure and extreme heat in the UK today. School children taking part in protests about the impact that climate change will have on their futures received only a “‘ticking-off” by Theresa May for skipping lessons, rather than an acknowledgement that we need urgent action. Undoubtedly Brexit, currently dominating our entire political system, will have catastrophic impacts on health and healthcare, but the effects of climate change are predicted to be significantly worse. These risks have been well documented elsewhere, and include, in the UK, extreme weather events such as heatwaves and flooding, and increased migration as a result of global water shortages, drought and the resulting conflict. While we were lucky to get this warm weather instead of a cold snap like Chicago, there is nothing to suggest that we would be safe from this kind of weather turbulence in the future.
Children and young people have recognised the impact that our inaction will have on their futures. We passively think that young people will be ‘the hope that will save the world.’ But this will one day mean that those young people may not have much of a world left to save.
We are the adults currently in powerful positions, so we must act. Coordinated school strikes are a novel tactic, but it is questionable whether the momentum can be maintained or whether it will ever translate into action if it is not supported by others. Now is the time for healthcare professionals to add their voice to this movement, identifying ways to communicate the urgency of the situation to the government.
A recent call to action by a concerted group of healthcare professionals called for the government to legislate for carbon neutral by 2030. Advocating for governmental legislation is an essential part of tackling climate change, however there are other things that can be done on an individual level.
Healthcare professionals are some of the most trusted members of society, and we know that people pay more attention to messages delivered by healthcare professionals. Whatever your role in the NHS, we can all use our privileged positions to increase understanding of the crisis and the need to demand action of the government, for example through educating our patients about these issues.
It is equally essential that the NHS does not contribute to the crisis, and action to reduce the carbon emissions of the NHS has already been successful. Further information about initiatives which can be introduced to green the healthcare sector are available from the Sustainable Development Unit. In your workplace, there are ample opportunities to contribute to the efforts to tackle the issue. Let’s add our voices to those of the striking school children by talking to our patients, our MPs and engaging in action to make the healthcare sector more environmentally sustainable.
Anya Göpfert, junior doctor, current national medical director’s clinical fellow. @AnyaGopfert
Maria Van Hove, junior doctor, current national medical director’s clinical fellow. @mc_vanhove
Competing interests: None declared.