Image by Alex M
On the 26th of August, Extinction Rebellion South Australia held our first die-in event at the South Australian Museum. It was an efficiently organised and meticulously marshalled action that created compelling imagery for the nightly news. It was also the first XRSA action for a large proportion of the participants, including Doctors for the Environment Australia‘s MIchelle Cresp, who delivered an articulate and stark account of the potentially medical and public health consequences of climate change if we continue on the path of business as usual.
Thank you XR for inviting me to share some words. Thank you too for inviting Doctors for the Environment to be present here today in support of your actions
A few degrees increase in temperature may not sound like much, but it can cause havoc in biological systems.
It is my understanding that heatwaves, which can cause heatstroke, are currently the second biggest mass killer in Australia after flu outbreaks.
In humans, heatstroke starts at body temperatures of 40 degrees, only 3 degrees above a healthy temperature.
Once the body’s temperature rises above 40 degrees, the body has no internal mechanism to return to healthy conditions. Our own brain is completely unreliable in this state. We have to rely on others to help us cool down, or on our machines- air conditioners, freezers with ice packs, or fans to lower our temperature. We can not do this on our own.
In a human being, untreated, heat stroke rapidly damages all of our vital organs, but especially our brain, liver and kidneys. In medicine we call this process multi organ failure and it has a dismal outcome.
In a similar way, on, our beautiful planet Earth, warming is leading to climate devastation and the collapse of many ecosystems. I think of this as multi organ failure of the earth and worry that it will have a dismal outcome too.
To be healthy, we humans need a very healthy planet, which means clean air, clean water, good food, accessible places of natural beauty and restoration, all of which requires a temperature range that the earth can regulate herself in. We are fast approaching a temperature range that is outside the earth’s regulation point. I doubt that even Dyson can develop a fan impressive enough to cool her.
Alongside our physical needs, we know that our social environment is just as important to our health. Events like today help your health too!
Just as our health depends on the quality of our connections with other people, we at DEA believe it depends on our positive relationship with animals and plants, too. We need to see and feel that our fellow organisms sharing the ride with us, have their health respected also.
All these layers of intricate dependence on a healthy environment are just as true for individuals, for communities, and ultimately for human civilization.
We are living through the 6th great extinction: the current rate of species extinction is 100 to 10,000 times the natural background rate. We don’t know if humanity will be one of them.
All of the mass extinction events on this planet, from the first, 444 million years ago, to the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, to our current crisis, have had one thing in common – a change in climate that made the earth uninhabitable for the majority of life forms.
It’s a fair bet that the dinosaurs didn’t have much idea what was going on. We know exactly how we are changing the climate, its scientifically proven and we know what the solutions are.
Dinosaurs were up against volcanoes and meteors, while we are up against very different things, matters that are largely our own species responsibility.
Our extinction asteroid is made up of our choices.
Our asteroid is our refusal to make a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in all sectors of the economy. Our asteroid is our human belief still mainstream but changing, very much changing that we can continue to plunder and poison the earth indefinitely. Our asteroid at its core has a very small number of greedy and arrogant humans, who dismiss the environment and hence human health with their actions.
Dinosaurs would have had significant challenges if they’d tried to organize their own Extinction Rebellion. As far as we know, dinosaurs couldn’t communicate. We can. And our words – enable important empowering events like today.
As a member of a collective like DEA or XR, I truly believe that we can work to create a stable, healthy, liveable world to enjoy for many generations to come.
Although as a doctor I can reassure you that dying can be a beautiful and very intimate time, it is a tragedy if the death is unnecessary, and a monumental catastrophe if it is an extinction caused by our own actions.
The dinosaurs didn’t have a choice. We do. Let’s be courageous with our actions.
Today let us die together symbolically to bring home the reality of the path we’re taking. Let us feel the presence of the others alongside us, their inner choices to be proactive in protecting our Earth’s climate, and prevent further extinctions.
Let us not feel fear, nor inertia, nor apathy. Let us feel invigorated by placing our human bodies alongside our earth body.
We don’t need to die as the dinosaurs did.
We at Doctors for the Environment are here with you XR in this Die In, pleading with the rest of the human family, to finally wake up! and say Enough.