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Medics have too much time on their hands

The British Medical Journal returns once again to the theme of climate change, with the current edition of the august journal featuring an editorial and no less than seven articles on the subject. Here's the editorial.

Last week was Climate Week in the UK, featuring a host of awareness raising activities across the country. And next Wednesday, 28 March, is NHS Sustainability Day ( So it seems a good moment to be publishing our Spotlight on climate change. The seven articles have been specially commissioned from among the speakers at last year’s high level conference on climate change, hosted by the BMJ in partnership with a consortium of other organisations (

In case there are any remaining doubters reading the BMJ, we begin with the science. “No science is ever completely settled,” writes Chris Rapley in the first article (doi:10.1136/bmj.e1026). “However, among the tens of thousands of scientists working in the field of climate science worldwide there is almost complete agreement that our climate system is changing, and that human activities are the predominant driving force.” Equally firmly agreed upon are the risks to health and life, summarised by Tony McMichael and colleagues—risks that are already realities for many of the world’s more vulnerable people (doi:10.1136/bmj.e1359).

What is less clear is how to reduce or even start to reverse the damage before it’s too late. I agree with Robin Stott that a global policy of “contraction and convergence” offers the best hope for our future, addressing climate change and social inequity (doi:10.1136/bmj.e1765). But the political will to achieve this remains elusive. Public engagement and greater efforts to convince politicians will be needed to keep climate change high on the political agenda when the problems of the global economy are so pressing. The question is, can we find a new economics that doesn’t rely on environmentally catastrophic growth, and can we find it in time?

In his introduction to the Spotlight Tony Delamothe finds one ray of sunshine: that low carbon economies can improve health (doi:10.1136/bmj.e2207). In their article, Andy Haines and Carlos Dora explain that health professionals are uniquely placed to promote policies that are good for the planet and for people (doi:10.1136/bmj.e1018). Whether doctors are willing to take a lead on this remains to be seen and is the subject of this week’s poll on

I always thought that health professionals in the NHS were grossly overworked. If they actually have time to spend on promoting policies, I would say that I must have been mistaken. Perhaps it's time for some contraction and convergence of the medical profession.

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Reader Comments (37)

Quick! Send for the men in white coats! The doctors have taken over the asylum.

Mar 27, 2012 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

.... and Jesus wept.

Mar 27, 2012 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Jones

Did anyone follow the link? I did and went to the forum. One of the topics: Offset your carbon with condoms. Hilarious.

Mar 27, 2012 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJPFife

"Last week was Climate Week in the UK"

Hands up all who noticed ?

That went well then.

Mar 27, 2012 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

You can have any colour as long as it's black (or, in this case, Green).

Similarly, we can all have a debate about the science (which is "never completely settled"), but only if you agree that "our climate system is changing, and that human activities are the predominant driving force."

This is not about the science, it's about who "wins" the cultural battle between individuality and dirigisme, between freedom and control.

And given that I am now forbidden to buy the kind of lightbulbs I want, it's easy to see which side is winning.

Mar 27, 2012 at 11:36 AM | Registered Commenterrickbradford

I was about to say much the same. This is the first I've heard of "climate week".
It seems that the eco-evangelists spend more and more time talking to themselves and the remaining members of the media/political bubble who will still listen. The public are irrelevant cannon fodder now that most are too busy trying to afford inflated "green" fuel bills to care about fear mongering.
We absolutely shouldn't get complacent though, the amount of long term damage which can be done by legislation pushed through compliant parliaments by a handful of zealots can't be underestimated.

Mar 27, 2012 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

This made me stop and think about the poor Africans dealing with crops growing faster and with less water. They don't know how to deal with this; more food, reduced malnutrition, less stress on water resources. How will the people of the Sahel cope with the increased greenery? We should, indeed must, help them out by pushing up food prices by buying up food crops for biofuels. This will keep them in their natural state of living on the edge of survival. This is the only moral response.

Seriously though, how can they say that humans are the "predominant driving force" of climate change, increased CO2 is the primary way we do it, CO2 increasing faster than in recorded history, and not notice that the temperature not responding for over a decade? If they have climate sensitivity to CO2 correct in their models (a big if), there must be other factors swamping the effect of CO2 which should logically preclude anthropogenic CO2 being the predominant driving force.

In a perfect world the doctors would be comparing the good that could be done for world health with all the climate taxes and the environmentalists would be mourning the loss of habitat due to biofuels. The environmentalists would also be against organic farming to decrease habitat loss and everyone would be looking at reducing population growth. Economists should be criticising the way we are squandering money on "green" taxes for windmills over gas and nuclear. Oh, and everyone who believes CO2 is leading us towards a catastrophic tipping point would be pro-nuclear.

A lot of experts - scientists, journalists, doctors - seem like they are more interested in status seeking and remuneration than providing competent advice on the issues they ostensibly care about.

Maybe I've been on the internet too long. Bring back the 80s when I could rely on The Guardian and New Scientist to make these things simple and shield me from any dissenting views.

Sorry for ranting on your blog Bish. Isn't it great weather we're having in Fife? the paddling pool is out and I hope I can visit Burleigh Sands while it lasts.

Mar 27, 2012 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered Commentergenemachine

Is it just me that wishes that doctors would stick to medicine and stay out of politics?

Mar 27, 2012 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterTed

For my sins, my "day job" involves working with doctors. Most are sincere. Some are excellent, modest, thoughtful and diligent, working with evidence-based medicine. Unfortunately a few are veritable "gobs on sticks", never shy of a chance to shine their ego or offer an opinion on a subject way outside their professional training and expertise. I leave it to you to conclude which category the BMJ folks fall into.

Mar 27, 2012 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith


You are exactly right.

I'll just add that for those of us in cold climates the "waste heat" from these filament light bulbs is actually much wanted heat supplied directly into the room we are using. Lack of mercury pollution is also a welcome bonus.

Mar 27, 2012 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered Commentergenemachine

What with this and (inter alia) the RS's forthcoming jamboree, I fear that rumours in the blogospere on the back of Fakegate et al. that the CAGW crowd are retreating are grossly exagerated...

Mar 27, 2012 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterAWM

It will be interesting to read the letters sent in by subscribers in the next edition about hijacking their publication for green propoganda.

I'll bet the complaints will far out weigh letters of support!


Mar 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

"....In case there are any remaining doubters reading the BMJ, we begin with the science....."

Nope, we're all fully on board - ManBearPig is alive and well although he is being treated for heat-stroke by our highly-trained, sustainable doctors at an NHS eco-friendly, mountain-top facility.

Mar 27, 2012 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDougS

Bob Ward says its unscientific does he.....and he knows how?

Mar 27, 2012 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterSirHumphry

I'll go along with you about the complaints out-weighing the letters of support.
As for what the correspondence column will look like ... ah, well now! that could be a different matter altogether!

Mar 27, 2012 at 12:20 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

'seven articles have been specially commissioned from among the speakers at last year’s high level conference on climate change'

Paid for by who ?

Mar 27, 2012 at 1:30 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

"...our climate system is changing, and that human activities are the predominant driving force.”

Goodness! However did the earth's climate manage to change continually for the past 5.6 billion years without us?

Mar 27, 2012 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Maloney

"Click to read more." Why would anyone want to. Mindless drivel from people we place responsibility for our individual and collective health. Depressing stuff.

Mar 27, 2012 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterIggy Slanter

The McMichael/Montgomery/Costello article has an interesting attitude to footnotes. You might call it the Monbiot school of referencing: scatter references all over the place and hope that nobody bothers checking if they're relevant.

The ones I checked last week weren't relevant. For example, the reference for the claim that Indian rice production peaked a decade ago and that the Green Revolution has finished in South Asia says nothing of the kind.

It would be surprising if it did. There's been an almost uninterrupted upward trend for Indian rice production for several decades and average annual production is well up on what it was a decade ago. I suspect that McMichael & co looked at a tabulation showing production in 1990, 2000 and 2010 and drew the wrong conclusions.

Green Revolution? Yields for all major crops continue to rise in South Asia, albeit more slowly than they once did.

The article also paraphrases discredited studies, such as the one predicting that climate change will cause wars in Africa, and discredits itself by labelling McMichael's dodgy 2003 estimate of CC-related deaths 'conservative' while quietly rounding it up from 166,000 to 200,000.

Mar 27, 2012 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterVinny Burgoo

Follow the money, unless the BMJ are going for NGO status.

OK just one more, these plastic Doc's can just BOGOF.

Mar 27, 2012 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

PS, LOL (Well it is home time in ten minutes), the sacry bit.

'and social inequity'

Mar 27, 2012 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

Rickbradford: I smuggled back a load of proper 100W lightbulbs from the US. Hooray! Wrong voltage. Duh!

Then, to my delight, found you can buy them online. Shhh! Don't tell the Greenshirts!

Mar 27, 2012 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

So who is the BMJ editor? Not another ex WWF plant I hope.

Mar 27, 2012 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveW

"...people we place responsibility for our individual and collective health?"

I hope you don't mean the BMA, who are merely the Trade Union of GPs, and are resposible for nothing but getting their members more money and less responsibility. The BMA have opposed every change in the NHS since its foundation and probably that too.

Your faith is touching but doctors are not above feathering their own nests, like any other profession. Climate Change is a gravy train, and a lot of people have reserved seats in anticipation of a profitable ride.

Mar 27, 2012 at 4:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterLondonCalling

So when we are ill, do we make an appointment with a climate change pscientist ? Possibly better to do so than with one of these @holes.

Mar 27, 2012 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneToTheSlammer

“No science is ever completely settled,” writes Chris Rapley in the first article (doi:10.1136/bmj.e1026). “However, among the tens of thousands of scientists working in the field of climate science worldwide there is almost complete agreement that our climate system is changing, and that human activities are the predominant driving force.”

The science is not settled, but it is, and even if it isn't we don't want to talk about it.

Mar 27, 2012 at 5:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterRB

Let's get this straight - most medical 'doctors' are not trained scientists. Some of them are, and somewhat ironically, are awarded doctorates.

Medics, on the other hand are primarily taught how to practice safely - and given that this is the primary requisite for obtaining a licence, this seems to mitigate against being a profession for those troubled by particularly enquiring minds.

Nonetheless, their media lionisation (and obscenely effective pay bargaining) gives then an entirely unearned platform for speaking way beyond their field of expertise.

Meanwhile, trained scientists who hold doctorates can be prosecuted for impersonating doctors who aren't doctors but claim to be by historic right...

I admire the German system - they know their place there - Medic = Arzt, Doctor = Doktor.

Mar 27, 2012 at 5:46 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

I think the main motivation behind the BMJ stance on climate change is good old redistribution of wealth and middle class guilt combined with a wishy washy socialism. As LondonCalling says the Doctors Trades Union the BMA have opposed every change to the NHS since its inception and have always been left wing however the BMJ used to be a reputable journal - they go on and on about evidence based treatment decisions backed up by rigorous trials and data, but throw all that out of the window when it comes to climate change - staggering hypocrisy really but par for the course

Mar 27, 2012 at 5:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

Sad to see the once mighty BMJ transformed into a greenie comic. Apparently it is owned by the British Medical Association, the doctors' trade union.

It is a worry when the people we entrust with life and death decisions seemingly have such a limited capacity for critical thought. Why have medicos allowed their once prestigious journal to be hijacked by a bunch of people who apparently think they are still editing their university student newspaper?

Mar 27, 2012 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna


There's a difference between Militate and Mitigate.

Mar 27, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMatt

This 'Tony McMichael' he the one who argued with Prof Paul Reiter over the small matter of mosquitoes? Noted, if memory serves correctly, in Prof Reiter's address to the H of L's some years back.
Tony Windsor

Mar 27, 2012 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterTony Windsor

Who remembers Logans Run

Theres a great way for the NHS to save the country loads of money

And cut the carbon foot of thousands of people


Mar 27, 2012 at 8:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Do any doctors actually read the BMJ?

Mar 27, 2012 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Its simple logic for the Smug Enviromentalists

If its okay for Gleinck Johnathon Harri and Daisey to lie to save the planet

So what other illegal and amoral things is it alright to do

If the Guardian think it ok to tell lies for their own political ends then you are on the road to Fascism

( Hitler and Gobbels and Himmler all started off by telling lies about the Jews in the 1920s and 30s )

Mar 27, 2012 at 8:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Roy: Doctor - I've got a temperature.
Dr Kilroy: So has everyone - it's caused by global warming.
Roy: Aren't you going to measure my temperature ?
Dr Kilroy: Don't need to - we have a weather station at the airport and measure daily max and min.
Roy: Is there anything I can do ?
Dr Kilroy: You need to change your lightbulbs. Five milligrams of mercury in every room will do it. Make sure you do the children's bedrooms.
Roy: Anything else ?
Dr Kilroy: Yes - you can sit in the dark for an hour on Saturday.
Roy: How does that work ?
Dr Kilroy: It only works when everyone else does it. You need to buy an electric car as well and do more composting. Now if you'll excuse me I've got more important things to do.

Mar 28, 2012 at 5:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

"NHS Sustainability Day"

And the cancer just keeps spreading.

Mar 28, 2012 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered Commenter3x2

The medical profession jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 with the CHC.

"The Climate and Health Council began in 2007, as a meeting of doctors, nurses and other health professionals recognising the urgency of addressing climate change to protect health."

They produce rather silly statements such as: "What motivates the Heartland Institute? As climate and other scientists and health professionals, we view the systematic sowing of unjustified doubt about mainstream international climate science as confusing at best, and inhumane at worst.

"In 2009, The Lancet declared, "climate change is the biggest global health threat of the twenty-first century". Healthcare professionals have a duty to protect patients from disease and environmental harm.

"We only have a few years to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to avert dangerous climate change. Given the disproportionate influence given to climate sceptics by the media, it is in the public, national, and global interest for all funding behind their activities to be revealed."

Mar 28, 2012 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered Commentermfo

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