During the Election campaign and in the midst of a climate emergency, doctors in Tower Hamlets are raising awareness about the devastating impact our changing climate will have upon the health of those in the borough and beyond.
Dr Emma Radcliffe from Aberfeldy Practice in Tower Hamlets told Eastlondonlines: “The climate change crisis is a health crisis . The impacts of climate change threaten the health of all individuals on the planet.”
GPs in Tower Hamlets are urging people to write to their MP, demanding them to act in this climate emergency. Dr Radcliffe said: “This is an opportunity to change things for the better and the situation is urgent! This is a climate emergency!”
Children in the Tower Hamlets area have a 10% less lung capacity than elsewhere in the UK. Seventy-seven percent of residents in Tower Hamlets are exposed to unsafe levels of pollution and 40% live in areas that breach EU and government air pollution guidance.
This pollution in the borough has been linked to a whole host of health issues including; asthma, heart disease, dementia, lung cancer and low birth weight.
A recent study from global research institution Lancet Countdown reported: “The life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change…Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives.”
Dr Radcliffe told Eastlondonlines: “The burning of fossil fuels, which climate change is largely caused by, is also linked to pollution. This is linked to heart and lung problems as well as cancer. Air pollution is linked to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year, and 9,400 in London.”
Tower Hamlets is London’s third highest emitter of CO2, whilst also being the area with the fourth lowest level of car ownership. Dr Radcliffe said: “Tower Hamlets is being exposed to emissions which are probably not caused by residents.”
Draught, infections, and food shortages are amongst the concerns raised by health professionals. GPs cite floods as an ever-pressing threat to the UK. The immediacy of this danger was seen in the extreme flooding over the past few months in the north of England.
More fatally, rising sea levels and flooding led to hundreds of deaths in Bangladesh. Dr Radcliffe told Eastlondonlines: “The population of Tower Hamlets obviously has strong links to countries such as Bangladesh, which is already being significantly affected by climate changes through flooding.”
She added: “This is happening now. We need to act immediately to stop things getting worse. The predictions are that we are aiming for a global increase of temperatures of 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The safe level is thought to be 1.5 degrees.”
Tower Hamlets GPs say the government is not doing enough to combat climate change, despite overwhelming evidence for the climate emergency. The next five years are crucial in the prevention of further climate breakdown.
GPs in Tower Hamlets said in a statement: “We need to take fast, decisive action to ensure that global temperatures do not rise too much. Our natural world is at risk of permanent collapse which will have a devastating impact on our health.”
The Lancet examined the effects of governments worldwide following a business- as-usual, laissez-faire attitude toward climate change. They found devastating consequences. Dr Radcliffe said: “We need to vote for a government who prioritize the climate crisis.”
“The government has the biggest role to play in fighting this…despite the government declaring a climate emergency earlier in the year, very little has happened. The government needs to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and commit to net zero emissions as soon as possible.”
Over 150 doctors across the UK petitioned against the decision by Boris Johnson to not attend the Channel Four debate on climate change, when he was replaced by a block of melting ice. Radcliffe told ELL: “Boris Johnson says that the conservative government are acting effectively on climate change…I can only believe that he doesn’t want to be challenged on the poor track record of the current government.”
Tower Hamlets Council hope to achieve a 60 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from their operations by 2020 and become zero-carbon or carbon neutral by 2025. The Breathe Clean campaigns and Liveable Streets proposals aim to reduce the dangers of pollution and curb traffic flow through the borough.
Whilst local council action is important, Dr Radcliffe says: “The British government should be leading the way globally on this as the UK has been one of the largest emitters over a long period of time (since the industrial revolution). We therefore have a responsibility to help find global solutions.”
Pete McCall, a member of Extinction Rebellion in Tower Hamlets, said: “We live in a borough that has some of the worst air quality in the country, and locals are suffering the effects on a daily basis.”
Last week climate change activism group Extinction Rebellion (XR) announced their “Twelve Days of Crisis” campaign, which intends to disrupt the general election with non-violent protests. XR plan to put pressure on politicians to make the “climate and ecological emergency the defining issue of this general election.”