'Climate change is the biggest threat to public health... but there is hope,' says Norfolk doctor

PUBLISHED: 10:01 22 October 2015 | UPDATED: 13:39 22 October 2015

Flood warnings at Walcott.

Flood warnings at Walcott. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

Norfolk doctor Hayley Pinto makes an appeal for us all to take action as world leaders prepare for a crucial meeting on climate change.

Dr Hayley Pinto of the Norfolk Recovery Partnership for Norfolk who is passionate about climate change and is worried about the future for her children. Pictured from left Toby Pinto, 15, Mia Pinto, 11, Hayley Pinto, 47 and Sasha Pinto, 17.

Picture: MARK BULLIMOREDr Hayley Pinto of the Norfolk Recovery Partnership for Norfolk who is passionate about climate change and is worried about the future for her children. Pictured from left Toby Pinto, 15, Mia Pinto, 11, Hayley Pinto, 47 and Sasha Pinto, 17. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

I am a doctor working locally for the NHS.

Given the state of things you would think I would be writing to you about that. As worried as I am about the NHS, there is something far more important happening that I believe most people are unaware of.

As a doctor I believe in the principle of informed consent. If a patient has a serious condition, I believe they have the right to know and to be given unbiased information about available treatments.

We (jointly) have a life-threatening condition and we are not being told: in fact, we are being actively misled. This is the truth. We are on the brink of making our planet uninhabitable, not just for polar bears – for people.

Many people still say it’s not proven but 97 per cent of scientists agree about this. If 97 doctors told you that you had a serious illness and three said you didn’t (and they were being paid to say that), who would you believe?

Fact: climate change is the biggest threat to public health – more than drugs, smoking and obesity. It’s not just green activists saying this. Even the head of the International Monetary Fund has said: “Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled.”

Climate change is urgent – it is affecting us now and it will get worse rapidly. In some parts of the world it is already critical. One example – Syria has had an unstable regime for a long time but the war was sparked by four years of unprecedented drought, which drove the farmers into the cities. The resulting migrant crisis is now on our doorstep.

This is only one way climate change will affect us. The World Wildlife Fund says we have already lost half the world’s wildlife. Many more areas are suffering drought, leading to severe wildfires; the northern boreal forests are dying due to pests spreading because the winters aren’t cold enough; the glaciers which feed some of the world’s most important rivers are disappearing, as is the arctic ice.

In Norfolk we are vulnerable to sea level rise which, coupled with the more extreme weather climate change brings, leads to more frequent and severe coastal surges and erosion, sudden downpours and floods (more people losing their homes), but also less steady rain through the year to water our crops.

Eighteen months ago I didn’t know all this. I “sort of” knew climate change existed, I did a bit of recycling, but didn’t really think about it. My interest was triggered by an article in the British Medical Journal and since then I have made a point of finding out.

What I have discovered has shocked me, and it has shocked me that I didn’t know.

I am a mother as well as a doctor. By the time my teenage children are my age, the world could be a very different and scary place. Yes, that’s the timescale. For the sake of my children, for the world I love, I can’t sit back and do nothing about this. Make no mistake, that is all it will take – just carrying on as we are. No-one has to push a button for this apocalypse to happen.

We are the last generation that has a chance to do something. If I thought there was nothing to be done, I would stick my head back in the sand, but we are also being lied to about the lack of solutions. Many people ask “are we all supposed to go back to living in caves”? Of course not.

The truth is, there is hope, lots of it.

We have the technology to tackle this. What we must do is invest in it and use it. We are told this will destroy our economies. Not true. The changes needed build small companies, democratise power generation, provide jobs and improve our mental and physical health. The window of opportunity to do this is rapidly closing, though. We need more than individuals changing their light bulbs. We need our policy makers to agree significant and binding commitments to legislate for change.

World leaders are meeting in Paris this December. They are under immense pressure from lobbyists and will only agree the changes we need if they know we want it. The secretary general of the United Nations has said: “There is no plan B because there is no planet B.” He has asked for people to let their governments know.

I urge readers – if you don’t know about climate change, find out.

A good place to start would be to come to the free films “Years of Living Dangerously” (by the director of Avatar) at Cinema City in Norwich at 10.15 every Sunday morning until November 22; or look at, or
Don’t ignore it until it’s too late – let’s start the treatment together.

•Do you agree with Dr Pinto? You can leave your comments below

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