The international medical community is watching Australia with alarm. This month The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, published a report about the giant Adani mine, titled: Australia's new coal mine plan: a “public health disaster”.
Coal mines are a health risk for miners, workers and local communities: they cause higher rates of childhood asthma, heart and lung disease, and some cancers. Frighteningly, there has been a recent resurgence in black lung disease – a potentially fatal disease caused by breathing in coal dust. More widely, the overwhelming majority of scientists say there can be no more coal mines if we’re to have any chance of a safe climate. Medical organisations are increasingly recognising the health risks, with the British Medical Journal describing climate change as, “a health emergency”.
The global health risks include increased severity and frequency of extreme weather, adverse changes in air pollution, the spread of disease vectors such as mosquitoes, food insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement and mental ill health.
In the UK, an alliance of 15 health bodies including seven royal medical colleges and the British Medical Association are calling for a rapid phase-out of coal to protect health and reduce costs. In Australia, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians recently described climate change as a “public health emergency”. The RACP board determined fossil fuel projects are inconsistent with its core business and, along with many other organisations around the world, has divested from fossil fuels.
Just as health professionals advocated against the tobacco industry, so we have a responsibility to speak up against fossil fuel projects such as the Adani mine, which present such unacceptably high risks.
Dr Kate Charlesworth is a public health physician in Sydney and works with the Climate & Health Alliance.