By Edward Stoios
The Queensland election is upon us. And most minds are on; jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy, after which it’s education and, finally, health care.
Medical students in Queensland recognise that the health of our people and our economy is ultimately related to the health of our environment.
We have written to 350 candidates in the election explaining how the potential loss of the Great Barrier Reef and the world-record land-clearing rates will affect the future health of Queenslanders.
We also asked for reform of our regulatory system because the recurrence of black lung was a shock to us all. It certainly damaged Queensland’s image of a bright, healthy State.
At this point in human history, as medical students we see that both land-clearing and coal development are furthering the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, threatening the economy, and ignoring the negative health impacts of climate change across the country and the world.
The sustainability of Queensland depends on agriculture and tourism; both are threatened by current policy for more fossil fuel developments. The spruiking of dirty jobs reflects the failure of successive governments to provide employment in sustainable work, in a state with so many natural advantages and with such scientific expertise!
As medical students, we learn that air pollution causes 3000 deaths each year in Australia and a huge toll of illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and heart disease. The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for a large proportion of this suffering, so why would you want a coal-fired power station in North Queensland or a new mine near Ipswich? Perhaps, because the consequences have been hidden by governments, or because a large section of the media blindly promotes fossil fuel development?
In our letter to candidates, we explained that in Port Augusta South Australia the closure of a coal mine and coal power station produced a healthier town and increased employment in the region with renewable energy, solar thermal, pumped hydro, battery storage and many other satellite economic developments.
Doctors and medical students also know that the global increase in temperatures is manifested as an increase in the intensity of disasters such as heat waves, flooding and cyclones which are already having a prodigious economic cost. Vectors of disease also tend to have a greater area and longer season, so spreading disease. Dengue in Queensland is a good example of this. Remote, poverty-stricken communities will face increasing difficulties as a result of climate change, with less-predictable access to water and to locally grown food. Mental health problems are often exacerbated by the increased stress of dealing with all these issues.
Land clearing in Queensland is increasing climate change and land erosion, both significant causes of damage to the Reef. Doctors recognise that unemployment affects the health of the unemployed and their families. Have we considered the health outcomes if we lose the 69,000 jobs and the $56 billion per year generated by the Reef? The damage to the Reef will destroy a fishing industry and impair research on pharmaceuticals potentially still to be discovered on the Reef, that might be used to treat cancer and inflammatory diseases.
Locally, the homeland of the Wangan and Jagalingou people is being threatened by a mega coal mine. More remotely, land-clearance and coal mining have greenhouse emission-related climate consequences for our Pacific Island neighbours and for the World.
To date, there have been 15 responses to our letter from 350 candidates. This low response is probably a reflection on the current failures of the Queensland political system and its lack of a vision for a progressive sustainable future for Queenslanders.
Edward Stoios is a medical student at the University of Queensland and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia.
First published in the Brisbane Times on 22 November 2017
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