posted on 22 April 2016
by Geoffrey Chia
Appeared originally at Doomstead Diner 21 April 2016
In the USA and especially Hollywood, "DEA" stands for drug enforcement agency and conjures up images of trigger happy feds in helmets and flak jackets carrying M16s. In my world, DEA stands for "Doctors for the Environment Australia" which conjures up images of kindly, well meaning physicians who unfortunately do not fully realise the enormity of the planetary predicaments we face, nor fully understand exactly what can and cannot be done about them.
Open letter to Doctors for the Environment Australia
Geoffrey Chia, MBBS, MRCP, FRACP. April 2016
I attended your DEA conference in Brisbane on 17 April 2016 as a non-member delegate. I agree with the broad philosophy of DEA, that failure to care for our environment is causing adverse public health consequences worldwide and we need to take appropriate action. Unfortunately that is about as far as it goes. I have utmost respect for you as fellow medical professionals, but I beg to differ with the DEA's official position regarding the current state of the planet and the actions we ought to take to reduce human suffering and death.
Although I am a Cardiologist, my real interests lie in scientific and ethical philosophy and how these can be applied to confer the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people for the longest duration. I convened the group "Doctors and Scientists for Sustainability and Social Justice" from 2006 to 2013 during which we held monthly meetings at the S&N pathology boardrooms in Taringa and invited many speakers, all experts in their fields, to educate us on important environmental and social matters.
Here are my points of disagreement with DEA:
I realise my views may be viscerally repugnant to you, indeed I experienced the same revulsion when I came to those conclusions in 2012, which led me to disband my D3SJ group in 2013. Nevertheless it is absolutely essential that we accept the evidence-based truth of a situation, no matter how horrific, so we can pursue the most effective actions, to enable the best (or least bad) outcome. With my deepening understanding of these worsening predicaments, my thinking over the years has shifted from global technological solutions (now impossible), to the mitigation of suffering and death for the majority of humanity (now also impossible), to at present, striving to avoid near term human extinction. Bitter experience has taught me it is a waste of time and energy to look to governments and corporations for solutions. They mouth meaningless green-wash platitudes and are in fact the cause of our problems. The only solutions forthcoming will be those which arise from our own individual actions.
Here is another stark reality you may find repugnant: it will not be possible to prevent the premature die-off of the majority of humanity.
This is the goal of most Australian medical practitioners today, myself included: we take whatever measures necessary to ensure our patients can live a good quality, "normal" duration of life of at least 85 years or so. In our wishful thinking, we would like to extend that goal to the other 7.5 billion people around the world. However, with the inevitable curtailment of fossil fuel energy2, it will not be possible to generate enough food, services and materials to comfortably support more than 500 million people worldwide, assuming a stable climate and a thriving ecosphere. Unfortunately, with worsening climate devastation and the sixth great global mass extinction well under way now, even 100 million survivors will be extremely unlikely. Such a view is entirely consistent with those held by top scientists including James Lovelock, many members of the Royal Society of London including former president Martin Rees and scientists who updated the original Limits to Growth models, in particular Ugo Bardi and Graham Turner. We may well face a "genetic bottleneck" with human numbers reduced to just a few thousand, confined to the deep South of the Southern hemisphere.
I do not accept that near term human extinction is certain. NTHE is not a guaranteed, forgone conclusion and I vehemently oppose those who ideologically adopt such a nihilistic position and promote defeatism. However irrefutable evidence forces me to accept that NTHE is a genuine possibility, indeed a significant probability if we take no action or waste time pursuing the wrong actions.
DEA may feel politically obliged to offer a positive, uplifting facade to their members and the public, however such a position is detrimental, indeed actively harmful, to anyone who follows your manifesto and your recommended course of action. Why? Because adoption of your current goals will cause your members to waste precious time, energy, resources and money pursuing useless activities based on delusional hopes. I am amply qualified to make that statement because I too have been guilty of such useless behaviour.
You will be familiar with the "golden hour" after a severe injury, when appropriate vigorous action taken by ambulance officers and A&E staff can make all the difference between life and death, between good quality survival and permanent disability. Correct, timely action makes all the difference.
Time is short. Right now we are reaching the end of our metaphorical "golden hour". If we miss this vital window of opportunity, we stand to lose all future options. The impending collapse of numerous fraudulent schemes such as shale oil (which dwarf the previous sub-prime mortgage scam) means that we are on track to experience the next global financial meltdown soon, from which systemic recovery may be impossible. This may occur in a couple of years or even this year. Things may seem "fine" to you now, however things also seem "fine" to the passenger snoozing in the plush seat of an air-conditioned coach which is speeding towards the edge of a cliff.
What correct, timely action should we take? Exhaustive studies and practical experience from contributors to research bodies such as the Post Carbon Institute recommend we decentralise our lifestyles and become as self sufficient as possible. Here are some practical suggestions:
One viable strategy: The off-grid Tiny House permaculture community:
I am not advocating that you move immediately to a remote off-grid self-sufficient homestead, but I am advocating that you set up such a homestead immediately, which will then be ready for you to move to at short notice. Alternatively you can, right now, build a relationship with an established self-sufficient community, which you can then move to at short notice, provided you have useful skills to offer and you have pre-arranged your own accommodation.
We face unstoppable and unimaginably horrific events which will radically alter our world. Only radical adaptation will enable our survival. Nature dictates that failure to adapt will lead to extinction.
It is no coincidence that by making the radical lifestyle changes suggested above, you will also reduce your carbon and environmental footprint to essentially zero, which I believe is the ultimate goal of DEA. It is not appropriate for us to harangue others to abandon coal fired power unless we ourselves can show them how to live well without coal fired power. Talk is cheap but if we lead by example we are more likely to be taken seriously.
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