Nurses and midwives union opposes gas, demands real climate action

The February 20 climate rally in Sydney. Photo: Aman Kapoor

Sarah Ellyard gave the following speech on behalf of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association to an Australian Student Environment Network and Workers For Climate Action rally in Sydney on February 20. It has been slightly abridged.

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I’m a registered nurse. I'm honoured to stand here today as a member of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA), which is 70,000 members strong and represents workers on the frontline of healthcare.

Our health and the health of our communities is intrinsically linked to the health of our planet and human-caused climate change is a global health emergency.

Nurses and midwives are already seeing the health impacts of the climate crisis and it will continue to test all aspects of health systems as the crisis worsens.

The NSWNMA strongly supports action on the climate and recognises the major implications of the climate crisis on our health system and the health of our communities. It also recognises the massive consequences of inaction.

Our union is affiliated with the Climate and Health Alliance and the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network.

Our union has a dedicated Climate Change Action Reference group, made up of members who are committed to promoting climate action within our workplaces and within our healthcare system.

Our union strongly supports School Strike 4 Climate: it endorsed and had a significant contingent in the 2019 Global Climate Strike in Sydney.

NSWNMA has made submissions against coal seam gas (CSG) and Santos’ Narrabri Gas Project. In 2016 members travelled to the Pilliga to oppose the gas project and oppose all CSG in NSW.

Our union opposes CSG on public health grounds: the contamination of aquifers, air and land; its impacts on First Nations communities; and CSG’s contribution to the climate crisis through the production of greenhouse gases.

In 2020, our union’s leadership on climate was acknowledged with a Gold Award in Climate Leadership from the international organisation Health Care Without Harm.

Over the last 12 months, we have seen another global health crisis unfold: nurses and midwives around the world have been on the frontline of the global COVID-19 pandemic which has tested not only our health systems, but all aspects of our society.

It has brought home the importance of listening to science, and shown us the devastating consequences that occur when we do not.

As we fight the pandemic, human-caused climate change has not gone away. It continues to represent an existential threat to human health and the health of our planet.

Many parallels may be drawn between the health crises of COVID-19 and the climate crisis. The emergence of pandemics, like the climate crisis, has been linked to the degradation of the environment by human activity.

Both COVID-19 and the climate crisis are recognised as threat multipliers; they amplify the inequities that exist in global health systems and put pressure upon already overstretched health services.

Tackling both crises involves listening to the scientific experts in the field and, in the case of climate change, it means taking the action that scientists have been warning us is necessary for decades.

Tackling both crises involves political will from our leaders.

The Morrison government’s proposed gas-led recovery is not the answer to the COVID-19 recovery, nor is it necessary as a transition fuel as we move towards a fossil-fuel free future.

Gas, like coal and oil is a fossil fuel. It is not the cheap energy source or the cleaner transition fuel we have been led to believe.

It will not deliver the jobs we need. We do not need it. As we recover from COVID-19 and deal with the climate crisis, we need public money invested in renewables — this cannot be left to the market.

We need public money spent on our health and education systems, essential services and right across the public sector. We must transition to a fossil-fuel free future.

There must be First Nations justice, a just transition for fossil-fuel workers and communities, and no-one should be left behind. It is not possible to separate the economy from our health, the environment and our future on this planet.

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