A SIMPLE puff on an asthma inhaler can be a life-saver, but it also pumps out a greenhouse gas 1000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
And while one squeeze doesn’t seem much, when you add together all the little things that help to keep Aussies ticking along, out health system is contributing a very unhealthy 7 per cent to the nation’s carbon footprint.
That’s prompted a coalition of WA health groups to call on the McGowan government to get a wriggle-on and implement the recommendations of a climate health inquiry released in November.
The key goal of the health coalition, which includes Doctors for the Environment, the WA Council for Social Services and the Doctors Reform Society, is the establishment of a stand-alone sustainability unit within the health department.
Brett Montgomery is a member of the Doctors Reform Society and says while the government appears to have accepted the findings of the inquiry, to meet his organisation’s desired target of carbon neutrality by 2040, action is needed.
“I can see how busy health managers would say ‘we are too busy to be thinking about sustainability’, so it makes it a no-brainer making it the job of a dedicated unit,” Dr Montgomery said.
“The biggest contributor to the carbon footprint of the health sector is procurement.
“It might be cheaper to use single-use surgical instruments than employing someone to sterilise them, but look at the sustainability of the practise.”
Dr Montgomery says another example are the gases used by anaesthetists; they’re some of the most potent greenhouse gases around and a number of countries have been working to phase out the worst.
Britain introduced a sustainability unit to the National Health System a decade ago, and Dr Montgomery said it led to a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions while also saving money.
“It managed that at a time when the demand on the service was increasing he says.”
Dr Montgomery said it was difficult for an individual GP to know if any of their patients’ ailments were attributable to climate change, but science pointing to more severe weather events and shifting diseases indicated doctors were operating more often in an uncertain world.
“With infectious diseases, I do know mosquitoes that carry dengue fever are moving, so it’s
likely North Queensland will get more cases.
“We have not done enough to deal with the health impacts of climate change, which is why we need to get planning now.
“We really need to look for some low-hanging fruit; we have to stop developing new fossil fuels.”
Dr Montgomery said the Doctors Reform Society was formed in the 1970s by a “bunch of leftie doctors” who supported former prime minister Gough Whitlam’s then-proposed Medicare system, which was not popular with many medicos.