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Doctors say climate change real and demands action

Thursday 10 December 2009
Embargoed until Friday 11 December 2009

NZ Doctors say climate change real and demands action

An article in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal, by a group of senior doctors, says that lingering debates around climate change’s presence are harmful, and we need to move to hard action.

“Human-induced climate change is now the central health issue facing humanity,” says lead author Dr George Laking, a medical oncologist and health economist of Auckland.

“The World Medical Association recently adopted the Declaration of Delhi, committing the medical profession to work hard around climate change. This is new professional territory for many doctors. But the profession has often engaged with issues outside ‘the health sector’ when the stakes are high, for example leaded petrol, road safety, tobacco, and nuclear weapons.”

“Now it is time for climate change. Just as we have to take decisions in medicine on the evidence to hand, and weigh up the risks, so we now have to with climate.”

Today’s article follows earlier editorials and work in the Journal calling for responsible targets to rapidly halve New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, leading up to the current international negotiations in Copenhagen.

The doctors conclude that human-produced emissions drive changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases, and matter when they are rapid or prolonged. “The current change and rate of change in global temperature is alarming. Climate models inform and guide present-day decision-making, and perform well in explaining observed warming. They corroborate other evidence that tells us that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are harmful at current atmospheric concentrations.“

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“As a medical specialist, I worry when I read some of the deniers’ arguments. It would be a brave doctor who failed to act on a rising temperature in a cancer patient with low white blood cells feeling unwell – just because it was still within ‘the normal range’. Or who ignored a very rapid weight loss, especially with other worrying symptoms.”

“But that’s what those arguments, often selecting out only bits of the information, would do for the world,” he insists.

The authors say it is good to be duly sceptical, especially in fields like evidence based medicine that are complex and contested. “But it is essential to distinguish between appropriate scepticism and counterproductive ‘denialism’”, they write. This includes spurious arguments, at times selective and influenced by economic interests beyond the science.

“There are common patterns in the tactics employed by the tobacco industry in its beat-up of ‘the smoking controversy’, those who deny that HIV causes AIDS, and the climate change ‘sceptics’.”

As a profession and as global citizens, doctors need to move beyond dissent and denial. ”We were able to do this for lead, tobacco and immunisations. We now have to take action with the climate”, ends Dr Laking.

For further information contact:
Dr George Laking
Mob: 021 983 919

The article in the NZ Medical Journal is on the NZMJ website at, and is also freely hosted at (Laking et al.)

Background notes:

Dr George Laking (Te Whakatohea) is a medical oncologist and health economist based in Auckland.

The article in the New Zealand Medical Journal is written on behalf of OraTaiao: New Zealand Climate and Health ( OraTaiao has actively written contributed to the peer-reviewed medical journals about climate change, including the lead editorial in the 30 October issue of the NZMJ about the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) (

The group also wrote the Special Article in the NZMJ (9 October, saying New Zealand must set a target of rapidly halving greenhouse gas emissions. This article had 100 health organisations, senior doctors and others speaking out as authors or supporters, comprising senior doctors including professors of medicine, surgery and public health, public health physicians, other specialists and general practitioners, and other doctors/health professionals.

Leading medical bodies throughout the world are saying that politicians must heed health effects of climate change, doctors must speak out, and doctors demand their politicians be decisive, listen to the clear facts and act now. OraTaiao is part of this movement by doctors worldwide.

The group continues to gather support from individual health professionals and professional bodies. OraTaiao considers that the halving New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions as a 2020 target is scientifically justified and necessary for limiting the health and social impacts of climate change in NZ and the Pacific. the group will continue to advocate hard for policies that adequately address climate change, that align with equity goals and that maximise the co-benefits for health in the medium and long term.


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