Our Future: The kids are right – we must act on climate change

Australian school children will skip school this Friday as part of a global movement of young people taking to the streets to demand action on climate change. As a doctor and a father, I’ll be there supporting them.

The kids are right – 25 years of climate inaction has brought us to the brink of a climate abyss. Our delayed response to climate change jeopardises human life and livelihoods. Since global efforts to combat climate change began in 1992, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise along with average temperatures.

Australia is no exception. New figures show emissions are increasing, and our temperatures continue to climb. Our hottest summer on record has seen bushfires, floods, droughts and heatwaves highlighting that rising temperatures, which drive climate chaos, not only directly impact human health but also agriculture and the state of our river systems.  

Already, many health organisations around the world including the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of Physicians and Doctors for the Environment Australia (which is running a separate campaign on children and climate change) have issued statements recognising the threat posed by climate change to human health.

And it’s our children who bear the burden of our inaction. Even now in Australia, excessive temperatures and heatwaves are resulting in an increase in pediatric emergencies for asthma, bacterial and viral gastroenteritis and dehydration.

Our droughts also have an emotional impact on our country children who are struggling to cope. "You look across a paddock and there's nothing there. Like, it's just dirt. And you see like a mirage ... just dead lands everywhere ... dead animals," said one boy in year 10. Long after bushfires have burnt out, our children continue to suffer psychologically due to the loss and fear and can struggle at school as well.

Climate change is a public health emergency requiring urgent action to reduce our emissions and prepare our health and emergency services to cope with the health impacts of further warming.

On Friday, I along with other doctors will stand with our school children who are calling for urgent action on climate change. I call on other medical professionals and parents to do the same.

Will you join us and tell our politicians to take our futures seriously?