Stay sane by fighting climate change!

One of Britain’s top psychiatrists says being eco-friendly is good for our mental health. Is he bonkers?

Rob Lyons

Topics Science & Tech

Big news from 10:10: four of Britain’s top medical organisations have signed up for its campaign to cut carbon emissions by 10 per cent in 2010. And if you thought that the people at 10:10 had a few emissions loose in the upper atmosphere, then you should hear what these top medical people are saying about climate change.

The green 10:10 campaigners are the folks who brought us that ‘hilarious’ promo video where people who didn’t want to do something about climate change were blown up in a bloody mess. While it is not an entirely unrewarding experience to see poncey-haired footballer David Ginola or X-Files star Gillian Anderson getting blown to smithereens, the message of the video was pretty clear: the critics of mainstream environmentalism should be silenced.

The latest 10:10 news is that the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) have all signed up. This means that ‘tens of thousands of GPs and thousands of psychiatrists nationwide, GOSH’s 3,200 staff, and the RCN – the staff of which act for hundreds of thousands of nurses – will be encouraged to increase energy efficiency to reduce carbon emissions’.

Dr Jane Collins, chief executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, said: ‘I passionately believe that climate change is a serious threat to children’s health, particularly in the poorer parts of the world… We hope GOSH’s redevelopment will be as green as is practical for a city-centre hospital. We have already started to audit and reduce our impact on the climate, but our commitment to 10:10 shows our determination to do more.’ Frankly, if 10 per cent of the effort devoted to climate change over the past few years had been devoted to tackling children’s health problems in the developing world, who knows how many lives could have been saved?

Speaking on behalf of the RCGP – ‘a network of more than 40,000 family doctors’ – sustainability spokesman Dr Tim Ballard said: ‘We recently hosted our first-ever sustainability-themed annual conference, where the challenges facing not only GPs, but all healthcare professionals and the public at large, were discussed at length. This is too big an issue to ignore.’

Dr Peter Carter of the RCN said: ‘With temperature extremes, storms and flooding threatening health, organisations like ours need to do all they can to lead the way. We’ve already made a significant start in looking at our building management functions and in waste disposal, but in signing up to 10:10 we are now committing to go much further.’

Such statements are typical of Britain’s big medical bodies these days. Merely representing the professional interests of their members and patients is not enough, it seems. Instead, the committees of these bodies jump on all sorts of bandwagons, with which the likes of a children’s hospital or general practitioners have only the most tenuous connection. Using the flimsy excuse of representing thousands of doctors, nurses or patients – most of whom will have no idea that they are being ‘represented’ on these issues – such apparatchiks declare, often with dubious evidence, that the sky will fall in if we don’t go along with their policy pronouncements.

But it was the president of the RCPsych, which ‘represents 13,000 psychiatrists in the UK’, who provided some truly nutty reasons why reducing carbon emissions is good for us.

Professor Dinesh Bhugra declared: ‘Research shows a low-carbon lifestyle can improve mental health – which is why the RCPsych is proud to be playing its part in the 10:10 campaign.’ As another one flew over the cuckoo’s nest, Bhugra continued: ‘People who engage in active, low-carbon activities, such as walking or cycling more often, are not only cutting emissions but keeping their bodies and minds healthy. For mild depression, physical activity can be as good as antidepressants or psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy.’

Now it’s entirely plausible that getting out of the house and grabbing some fresh air and a little exercise might improve your mood if you’re down in the dumps. But suggesting this might be a way of preventing devastating climate change suggests the good professor should seek some professional help from one of his organisation’s members. He seems to be trying to sell a low-carbon lifestyle as a win-win for all concerned: the Maldives don’t disappear under the waves and it cheers you up a bit!

Sadly, like the strange bloke who sits next to you on the bus and wants to impart all his pet theories to you, Professor Bhugra went on. ‘Working together to tackle climate change could even help prevent harm to people’s mental health at an international level. Climate change as a result of global warming is likely to trigger increased flooding and greater risk of natural disasters across the world. As we have seen with the recent floods in Pakistan, these sorts of disasters can lead to destitution and poverty, which are associated with mental illness.’ Yes, having all your worldly possessions destroyed can leave you a bit blue, but trying to force some kind of connection between the mental states of people in Pakistan and fitting a few light bulbs at the RCPsych’s offices is simply doolally.

Ironically, green living has been fingered as a cause of stress. For example, a poll in May 2010 by a green energy company found that 60 per cent of couples argue over energy wastage while others have described the tensions between partners over how to live ‘ethically’ (see Saving the planet, killing the passion, by David Bowden).

Still, the collective might of the organisation that stands up for Britain’s shrinks no doubt has a devastating plan to hold back the rising waters, cool our fevered brows, and keep the ice-caps icy. ‘Over the coming months, staff at the RCPsych will be working hard to cut our air and taxi travel, reduce our fuel consumption and make our eight offices across the UK more energy-efficient.’ That’s right, they’re going to take the bus and turn down the thermostat to stop the world from going enviro-mental. After the big speech about what a big problem climate change is, the ‘solution’ seems a bit pathetic in comparison.

Being lectured by psychiatrists about how we all need to go green is crazy. The implication is that if all these heavyweight professionals have signed up to 10:10 – an initiative that will, at best, have an infinitesimally small impact on global temperatures – you’d have to be nuts not to sign on the dotted line, too. Which, as moral arm-twisting goes, is almost as bad as that explosive video.

If carbon emissions are really the problem they are presented as, then surely we need some big solutions. Unfortunately – as the UK government’s latest pronouncements on energy show – big solutions are either thin on the ground or are being delivered on glacial timescales. So what we are left with is endless lecturing about our personal habits, the way we travel and how much we are prepared to shiver while sitting in the office.

If anyone seriously thinks that deluded warnings of global catastrophe and sermons from shrinks are going to change the world, we can only draw one conclusion: the low-energy lights are on, but there’s nobody home.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Science & Tech


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