Over 1,100 qualified medical doctors have come out in support of non-violent direct action as they warn of the mental and physical health damage caused by looming climate and ecological disaster.
The open letter signed has been signed by 1,147 doctors, signatories including eminent public health doctors and the editor of the British Medical Journal. They write warning that present policies and responses to the climate and ecological emergency are woefully inadequate.
The letter states that: “As caring professionals we cannot countenance current policies which push the world’s most vulnerable towards progressive environmental catastrophe.”
In stark contrast to the Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant who has called for all 1,130 arrested in peaceful protests to be prosecuted, the medics write that non-violent direct action is a “reasonable choice” by people when their government fails to avert a climate catastrophe.
The doctors write: “Governments abrogate their responsibility when pursuing grossly inadequate policies that risk environmental collapse. Non-violent direct action then becomes the reasonable choice for responsible individuals.”
One such individual is doctor Cliff Kendall who has been on a hunger strike outside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in London for 13 days now.
Dr Kendall ate his last meal on Sunday 14 July, the day before Extinction Rebellion’s Summer Uprising began.
He has been living on liquids ever since to call for necessary actions by government to tackle a climate emergency.
This is an emergency that Dr Kendall, 38 is vividly aware of having worked with Médecins Sans Frontières and in a rural South African hospital where he has treated people whose lives he insists are in the balance due to current global warming. Communities such as the one he serves at Bethesda Hospital are very vulnerable to water shortages and food insecurity, which will inevitably lead to hunger, migration and unrest as global warming makes their lands uninhabitable.
“The more hands on experience and clinical work you do, the more frustration you feel in the factors that lead to these problems particularly in the Sahel desert strip across Africa – it’s such a frail region and I was seeing such huge amounts of malnutrition and poverty and it’s so prone to these issues,” said Dr Kendall.
The doctor from Harlow said that according to UN data under-nutrition has now been increasing globally since 2015.
“In Africa the number in under-nutrition has increased 30% from 2005 to 2018,” said Dr Kendall. “I grew up with Live Aid and sustainable goals to make things better, so for me this is shocking. People are already suffering from climate consequences and there are huge communities around the world that are incredibly frail.”
Dr Kendall says his experiences as a medic in regions affected already by climate change has made him appreciate the urgency with which governments must take action to bring forward zero-emission targets to avoid increasing crises.
“When I was in Ethiopia in refugee camps, psychologists there asked children to draw their biggest fear and the vast majority of children drew the sun.
“It is so hot – normal for that area but with climate change for lots of poor people relying on subsistence farming a bit of disruption to the normal order of weather is absolutely devastating. In South Africa there was a devastating drought just before I arrived, people queueing for water, their cattle dying.”
Dr Kendall says that so far his 13 days without food has been “reasonably safe” as he is drinking plenty of water with vitamin supplements and rehydration solution.
He has written to the outgoing Environment Secretary Michael Gove as well as the new Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, insisting: “I’m advocating for the UK government to take a much more ambitious approach to tackling climate change, to me the need for this seems nothing short of desperate.” Dr Kendall has also written to BEIS and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
His full, powerful public statement is below.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported on the havoc that a 1.5c temperature increase and a 2c increase would cause to the world to help countries meet their targets to reduce carbon emissions.
Dr Kendall pointed out that the UK government’s own climate change committee says there is only a 50% chance of preventing a 3c degrees increase.
“Such a scenario hasn’t even been considered by the IPCC,” explained Dr Kendall. “This would cause devastation in the areas I work in.”
Dr Kendall calls on the UK government to tell people the truth about climate change, a call echoed by over 1,000 medics who signed a letter reproduced in full below. The medics urged more medical professionals to add their names to their call.
Dr Alex Armitage, a Paediatric Registrar and one of the signatories, said:
“Climate and ecological breakdown is the biggest threat to public health and the government is failing to take action to protect us. Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent civil disobedience is an evidence based, public health intervention that works.”
Another signatory, Professor David Pencheon, Honorary Professor of Health and Sustainable Development, University of Exeter, added:
“Working as a health professional for 40 years, the scientific and empirical evidence is clear. Climate and environmental breakdown with plummeting levels of biodiversity are the biggest health threats we face. All that makes life worth living is at severe risk. The solutions need to be bold and quick – they will bring both immediate and long term benefits to all living systems including human beings.”
The letter they and many more medical professionals are signing is below:
Doctors and the Cancer of Climate Change. An open letter endorsing Non Violent Direct Action:
We the undersigned are qualified medical doctors. We are united by our distress at the world’s minimal response to looming environmental disaster, ignoring the early signs of a malignant process. We sympathise with current widespread protest, notably by children who will be the most affected. Peaceful protest can change society. We urge government and media to respond immediately and proportionately.
As scientists we hear the warnings of worldwide bodies including the IPCC, NASA , WWF and WHO becoming increasingly urgent, emotive and united. As caring professionals we cannot countenance current policies which push the world’s most vulnerable now, and all our children in the future, towards progressive environmental catastrophe. It is unethical to fail to adequately inform the public as carbon emissions continue to rise, societies and habitats are destroyed and the risk of irreversible damage increases.
We are particularly alarmed by the inevitable effects of rising temperatures on health: the Lancet’s “ biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. We observe escalating extreme weather events, spread of infection, loss of productive land and massive flooding of low-lying areas. We heed predictions of societal collapse and consequent mass migration, both worldwide and within countries. Such societal collapse risks damage to physical and mental health on an unprecedented scale.
We acknowledge the challenge of transforming consumerist, fossil-fuelled economies into those that enable environmentally and socially sustainable societies. But we celebrate the opportunities such changes will bring, creating a kinder, more equitable and more sustainable world. There is hope. Tackling climate change “could be the greatest global opportunity of the 21st century”- the Lancet again. Urgent radical action will mitigate the inevitable environmental damage. But delay massively increases the cost of mitigation and risks irreversible progression of this global pathology.
Present policies and responses are woefully inadequate. The IPCC warns that we have only 11 years to halve global emissions (and then reach net zero by 2050) to meet their 1.5C target, yet last year our global emissions rose yet again. It will be a massive task to avoid catastrophic warming and we need radical action now. Our unchecked consumption, dependence on fossil fuels and decimation of ecosystems continue. The diagnosis is clear and the treatment urgent. Yet politicians prevaricate and global emissions still rise. What chance do we have to meet the IPCC target if we delay?
Governments abrogate their responsibility when they pursue grossly inadequate policies that risk environmental collapse. Non Violent Direct Action then becomes the reasonable choice for responsible individuals. History, evidence and recent events demonstrate the effectiveness of persistent, peaceful protest. The method enables the media in publicising this complex but vital message.
We therefore support the following key demands which parallel those made by the Extinction Rebellion movement:
• that governments and media are honest about the challenges and urgency of tackling ecological disaster
• that governments effect carbon neutrality within the IPCC timeframe
• that governments establish and are led by Citizens Assemblies to enable climate and ecological justice
If you wish to add your signature to the letter above please complete this form https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfeUW3hRjO2QZokEOSSxTotS5uuDubjiNJuXVDtRb8EC77lZA/viewform.
Dr Cliff Kendall’s statement:
Hunger strike Statement
I made the decision to go on hunger strike on 14/07/2019 hoping that I might add something to the push for more aggressive action regarding climate change and the broader ecological crisis.
I don’t generally encourage hunger strikes; in particular I would criticise any young activists’ involvement as it may encourage people to get involved without appropriate maturity and support. I’m doing this both with a lot of forethought and also, as a clinician, as someone who has someunderstanding of the risks involved.
While I’m willing to encounter some risk and discomfort to make a point, I am continuing to take oral rehydration solution/vitamins and will reconsider my position on 28/07/19 or if significant risks emerge.
My understanding of climate change and the ecological crisis
For anyone starting off exploring climate change the 2018 IPCC report, with 91 authors and review editors, seems the authoritative place to start. The consensus here is that a global temperature increase peaking 1.5°C could be achieved, however this would require ‘rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’. Their model entails bringing global CO2 emissions at net zero in 2050.
- UK emissions as, presently calculated by Kyoto protocol, excludes international aeronautics, shipping and emissions involved on its imports
- The UK is within the top 10 richest countries in the world
- The UK’s historical CO2 emissions are within the top 10 globally
There are criticisms of the IPCC as being way too optimistic (of course there are ‘deniers’ to so I’ll leave such discussions for more qualified people)The declared UK target of 2050 reflects an ambition out of place with our economic responsibility and position. This is planning for all other nations being able and willing to meet the 2050 target –and also pay the bill for international aeronautics and shipping. This is clearly not reality.
Nine months after the IPCC statement that ‘rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ were necessary all we have is a declaration that one of the most able countries in the world will hand in its homework not a moment before the deadline.The 1.5-2°C temperature rise seems unrealistically low. I have been unable to access scenarios from the IPCC that look at higher levels of temperature rise.On top of this green-house gases are but one aspect of the ecological damage due to pollution and habitat loss. I’m sitting now looking at the same street I grew up in. There are more cars now but it looks pretty much the same. I find it very hard to appreciate the dramatic global changes that have happened, with the WWF estimating a 60% decline in vertebrate species over the past 50 years. Even a 2011 study suggesting that of the weight of the world’s vertebrate land animals only 1% are now wild, the rest being people and our livestock. I fear that fishing, farming and population growth are pushed to be non-sustainable by competitiveness and this productivity has given a false sense of security. Even this is looking at things merely in terms of meeting humanities basic needs, aside from any reverence or potential to learn from the natural world in itself.
My own background
I am a UK trained doctor who has worked largely in South Africa since 2010. I have also worked with a Humanitarian NGO in various countries. I am already shocked by the frailty in which a large proportion of people in the world live. For most of my life I’ve had the pleasure of seeing poverty and malnutrition a problem slowly improving. However the UN’s 2018 Food and Agriculture Report shows increasing ‘severe food insecurity and undernourishment’ since 2014. OCHA (2018 Humanitarian Overview) showed a large and increasing funding gap. The humanitarian world is preparing for everything getting worse.
It saddens me to think these are the first signs of a general decline in conditions globally.
It saddens me to come to the UK and see such a large and growing divide between rich and poor. It saddens me how much work people will have to do in our present system to consider their life a benign effect on the world.
‘Work’ used to entail using and taking from an expanse of nature that could tolerate it and making things better for people. Many people now have no option but to take jobs at companies they do not support, companies whose actions are detrimental to life. There is not really a word for having to tolerate such a job, but ‘work’ doesn’t seem to do it justice.
And while this is going on: ‘Space tourism’. Is this what we have to offer to get money from thosewho have excess? Not ‘here is an opportunity to reduce untold human suffering’?
I do not want to leave this world worse of than I found it. I don’t believe children want to reachadulthood and come to understand that “yes – we destroyed all this for you.”
The world is a complicated place, I’ve preferred to keep my distance from politics. I’d rather stick to healthcare hoping that at least there, I should achieve something positive. Like over a thousandother doctors that have chosen to endorse Extinction Rebellion I’m fearful that our achievementscould fall insignificant if there is not a shift in human behaviour.
Subsequently I started a hunger strike. Everyone’s busy, no-one has time, so this is just my short- hand way of saying that I think these issues matter (my utmost appreciation if you’ve read this far). I have emailed Michael Gove/DEFRA and subsequently the department for BEIS with the details of the hunger strike, hoping to encourage the UK government to a more ambitious target to reach carbon-neutral and urgent action to mitigate climate change and the ecological crisis.
Many thanks, Cliff