The prime minister's refusal to acknowledge climate change endangers us all

Picture: Daria Ni/Shutterstock.com
Picture: Daria Ni/Shutterstock.com

Everyone is coming in with the same symptoms. "Doctor, I feel really tight in the chest, I have this burning pain across my chest, I'm short of breath and coughing, my eyes and throat hurt." I know how they feel.

We all breathe the same air, and for the last few weeks that air has been a cloud of smoke, seeping in everywhere, restricting our light, turning the sun dark orange.

That's what can be seen. What can't be seen is more dangerous.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison refuses to see the link between climate change, prolonged bushfire seasons and the smoke polluting our air.

He refuses to see the link everyone is talking about, including fire chiefs, doctors, farmers, mayors, even schoolchildren.

The Australian Medical Association and several medical colleges have declared climate change as a health emergency. This refusal to see is dangerous for all of us.

Also dangerous is what is too small to see.

Unlike the wilful blindness of Mr Morrison, we have no choice about seeing the smallest smoke particles we breathe in.

We've learnt to call them PM2.5. These microscopic smoke particles get deep into our lungs and blood stream and are responsible for how my patients feel, and how I feel.

The immediate effect is to fill up my clinic, every other GP clinic, and the emergency departments of your local hospitals.

Over the longer term, people will have more lung disease and heart disease.

We will provide medical treatment that will make people feel better. We will use inhalers and update their management plans.

We will check on people we know are vulnerable - children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions.

And we will advise on ways of avoiding the worst of the smoke - stay at home, doors and windows closed, put the air conditioner on recycle, or go to air-conditioned buildings, like libraries or shopping centres.

But how practical is that?

People still need to work, perhaps outdoors, and the poorest in our communities cannot afford air-conditioners.

The bushfires have started early, it feels like this is going to be our summer now, and maybe all of our future summers.

We will all do what we can for ourselves and our communities. But ultimately we don't get a choice about the air that we breathe.

Our government is meant to keep its citizens safe. We can see it is avoiding talking about climate change, and we can see the harm it is doing.

We are no longer asking for urgent action on climate change: we're demanding it.

Dr Tim Senior is a general practitioner