As the largest, and among the most trusted workforce group,1,2 nurses and midwives are an extremely powerful and influential group, who are critical to achieving the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and 17 Goals for Sustainable Development.3
When mobilised, collective action by such a large segment of the population can drive monumental change at all levels of politics, improving the world for everyone, including the most vulnerable members of society.4
This is the scale of action that is needed now more than ever. Climate change represents the single largest threat to global health and wellbeing.5 Without immediate, drastic action, it will be too late to prevent disaster.
Between 2030 and 2050, malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress are anticipated to lead to an additional 250,000 deaths every year – all results of climate change.5
The COVID-19 pandemic,6 bushfires, floods, and droughts are a taste of what can be expected if inaction persists.7,8 These events have all been brought about by humanity’s escalating impact on the world and many governments’ lack of genuine action.9,10 Australia is one of the worst culprits.11 Our government is risking our lives,12 lives in neighbouring countries,13 and those of future generations.14 It is time to take a stand.
Recently, the BMJ published a piece including many practical recommendations for how nurses and nursing organisations can and must take action to respond to the threat of climate change.15
These recommendations include ensuring nurses – particularly women – take on executive leadership roles, enhancing nursing students’ skills to tackle and prevent climate change, and rekindling activism and advocacy.
As the paper concludes; “the future will ask, what did you do?”, so this time in 2022, let’s be able to answer; “we elected a government that will act genuinely to respond to the climate emergency”.
Our first action is clear; we must demand politicians take up and act on genuine, robust policies to mitigate climate change immediately. At the time of writing, the next federal election is yet to be called, but the expectation is that it will probably be in March 2022. This presents us with the opportunity to campaign hard to demand that politicians from every party adopt the necessarily robust climate change policy that is so urgently needed.
The Coalition’s planned approach to addressing climate change is a scam; a piece of flimsy marketing seen-through almost the moment it was released.16 The most disappointing issue here is probably that no one was surprised. The Australian government’s poor performance has become par for the course,17 with their tepid responses to both the Royal Commissions into Aged Care and Banking, mishandling of the bushfires, and bungling of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out just some of the tragic and unforgivable failures of recent years.
Scott Morrison said his government would ‘burn for the Australian people’, but he was relaxing on a beach in Hawaii while 33 people tragically lost their lives, the homes and livelihoods of thousands of Australians, and billions of animals went up in smoke.18 This is the Prime Minister that brought a lump of coal to Parliament and forcibly shook the hands of unwilling bushfire victims for photo opportunities. Scott Morrison and his government are not acting on climate change as they claim but expanding and extending the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and blocking global collaboration.19
The current government has made their position crystal clear; they do not represent the people of Australia but the interests of a few unbelievably wealthy individuals and their companies.20,21 Scott Morrison lauded the quiet Australians, small business owners, and farmers for the 2019 Coalition victory but has delivered little for these groups, with flat wages,22 rising costs,23 and a health and aged care system that is treated as a liability, not an investment.24 The compassion and humility promised at the outset of the current government have been replaced with an almost notorious and now world-renowned tendency to dodge questions, weave excuses, and shirk genuine leadership.
In the leadup to the next election, history has shown us that the coalition government will attempt to attack other political parties. The liberals will claim that other politicians ‘cannot manage the economy’, but this is patently false.25 Critical analysis and reflection on past performance have demonstrated that Labor clearly outperforms the Coalition in managing Australia’s economy.26,27 The Coalition government will claim their failures were brought about not through mismanagement and vested interests but because of the COVID-19 pandemic and situations beyond their control. To paraphrase French President Emmanuel Macron; we don’t think they’re lying to us, we know.
As we bid farewell to 2021 and unbelievably an even more exhausting year than 2020, I urge you to consider who you are voting for this election. Let’s see nurses, midwives, and carers leading the way to call for a government that will act in the best interests of the Australian people and take real action on the climate emergency.
1 Roy Morgan. Roy Morgan Image of Professions surveys of Australians 14+ between 1976 – 2021 [Online]. Roy Morgan. Available: http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/8691-image-of-professions-2021-april-2021-202104260655 (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
2 IPSOS MORI. IPSOS MORI Veracity Index 2021 [Online]. Available: https://www.ipsos.com/en-ie/ipsos-mrbi-veracity-index-2021-who-do-we-trust (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
3 Osingada CP, Porta CM. Nursing and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a COVID-19 world: The state of the science and a call for nursing to lead. Public Health Nurs. 2020;37(5):799-805.
4 Brent R. Politics as a driving force in nursing and health care. Nursing Economics. 2020; 38(6):282.
5 World Health Organization (WHO). Climate Change and Health [Online]. WHO: Geneva. 2021. Available: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health (Accessed 8 Nov 2021).
6 Harvard School of Public Health. Coronavirus, Climate Change, and the Environment A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard Chan C-CHANGE [Online]. 2021. Available: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/ (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
7 CSIRO. Climate change in Australia [Online]. CSIRO. 2021. Available: https://www.csiro.au/en/research/environmental-impacts/climate-change/climate-change-information (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
8 Duckett S, Mackay W, Stobart A. Climate change and health: preparing for the next disaster [Online]. The Grattan Institute. 2020. Available: https://grattan.edu.au/report/climate-change-and-health-preparing-for-the-next-disaster/ (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
9 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the United Nations. Fifth Assessment Report (AR5): Climate Change 2014 [Online]. 2014. Available: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/ (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
10 Harvey F for The Guardian. Cop26 targets too weak to stop disaster, say Paris agreement architects [Online]. 2021. (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
11 Burck J, Uhlich T, Bals C, Höhne, Nascimento L. Monitoring Climate Mitigation Efforts of 60 Countries plus the EU – covering 92% of the Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Results: Australia [Online]. Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI): Bonn. Available: https://ccpi.org/wp-content/uploads/CCPI-2022-Results_2021-11-07_A4-1.pdf (Accessed 10 Nov 2021).
12 Vicedo-Cabrera AM, Scovronick N, Sera F, Royé D, et al. The burden of heat-related mortality attributable to recent human-induced climate change. Nature Climate Change. 2021;11(May):492-500.
13 Tukuitonga C, Vivili. Climate effects on health in Small Islands Developing States. Lancet Planetary Health. 2021;5(2):E69-70.
14 Zhao Q, Guo Y, Ye T, Gasparrini A, et al. Global, regional, and national burden of mortality associated with non-optimal ambient temperatures from 2000 to 2019: a three-stage modelling study. Lancet Planetary Health. 2021;5(7):E415-25.
15 Butterfield P, Leffers J, VÃ¡squez M D. Nursing’s pivotal role in global climate action BMJ 2021; 373:n1049 doi:10.1136/bmj.n1049
16 Dewan A, Westcott B, Whiteman H, for CNN. Australia will be the rich world’s weakest link at COP26 with hollow net-zero and emissions pledges. Cable News Network (CNN): Online. 2021. Available: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/25/australia/australia-climate-net-zero-intl/index.html (Accessed 10 Nov 2021).
17 Climate Council. Climate cuts, cover-ups, and censorship. 2021. Online: Climate Council. Available: https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resources/climate-cuts-cover-ups-censorship/ (Accessed 8 Nov 2021).
18 Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements. The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements Report [Online]. Commonwealth of Australia. 2020. Available: https://naturaldisaster.royalcommission.gov.au/publications/royal-commission-national-natural-disaster-arrangements-report (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
19 Readfearn G for The Guardian. Australia ranked last of 60 countries for policy response to climate crisis. The Guardian: Online. 2021. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/09/australia-ranked-last-of-60-countries-for-policy-response-to-climate-crisis (Accessed 10 Nov 2021).
20 MacDonald H, for ABC RN Breakfast. Keith Pitt: Australia will keep selling coal for as long as the world keeps buying it. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC): Online. 2021. Available: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/keith-pitt-australia-cop26-coal-emissions-methane/13620966 (Accessed 10 Nov 2021).
21 Brailsford L, Čašule N, Boren Z, Hewes T, Sforza ER for Greenpeace Australia. Dirty Power: Burnt Country – How the fossil fuel industry, News Corp, and the Federal Government hijacked the Black Summer bushfires to prevent action on climate change [Online]. Greenpeace Australia. 2020. Available: https://www.greenpeace.org.au/burntcountry?_ga=2.262454092.175228533.1636693606-1937107584.1636693606 (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
22 Nahum D for The Centre for Future Work. The Broken Bargain: Australia’s Growing Wages Crisis with Sally McManus [Online]. The Australia Institute. 2020. Available: https://www.futurework.org.au/the_broken_bargain (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
23 Austin A for The Independent Australia. Rising living costs plunge Australia’s economic ranking [Online]. 2021. Available: https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/rising-living-costs-plunge-australias-economic-ranking,15361 (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
24 Duckett S. What are the major parties promising on health this election? [Online]. The Conversation. 2021. Available: https://theconversation.com/what-are-the-major-parties-promising-on-health-this-election-116427 (Accessed Nov 12 2021).
25 Hawke B, Keating P. Scott Morrison is flying in the face of history with his fallacious claim [Online].The Sydney Morning Herald. 2019. Available: https://www.smh.com.au/federal-election-2019/scott-morrison-is-flying-in-the-face-of-history-with-his-fallacious-claim-20190507-p51kts.html (Accessed 12 Nov 2021).
26 Junankar PN. Who is Better at Managing the Australian Economy: Labor or the Coalition? Discussion Paper Number 79. 2005. Online; The Australia Institute. Available: https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/DP79_8.pdf (Accessed 5 Nov 2021).
27 Austin A for The Independent Australia. Experts agree: Labor best economic managers. Online: Independent Australia. 2019. Available: https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/experts-agree-labor-best-economic-managers,12620#google_vignette (Accessed 5 Nov 2021).
Dr Micah DJ Peters is the Director of the ANMF National Policy Research Unit (Federal Office) based in the Rosemary Bryant AO Research Centre, UniSA Clinical and Health Sciences, University of South Australia