A moment in TIME is helping to change the future

25 November 2019

Photo credit: NZ Doctor

An article in TIME magazine 13 years ago changed the course of Dr Rebecca Randerson's life, seeing her become one of the founding executive members of OraTaiao, the NZ Climate and Health Council for health professionals.

"The article talked about what was happening to the earth, how it was heading towards its planetary limit, and it really resonated with me," she explains.

"My children were very small at the time and I think that early sense of parental responsibility really helped galvanise me into action.

"I began to talk to my colleagues and found others who felt that sense of urgency and saw the connection between health and the environment and how dependent we are on the stability of our planet."

This fledging group formed OraTaiao to help raise awareness and advocate for health policies that make a difference.

"It's going to take every single one of us to do what we can right now if we are going to effect meaningful change for the generations to come." 

"In terms of the health sector, secondary care offers up the most opportunities to make the biggest impact, but that isn't to say that GP clinics and practices can't play their part," says Rebecca, who served as a OraTaiao Board member for 10 years before stepping aside to allow new blood in.

The Wellington GP joined forces with Christchurch GP Rochelle Phipps, who turned out to be an old school friend from 20 years ago, to put together a toolkit that helps community doctors to become environmentally sustainable.

"The Hutt Valley DHB hosted an inspiring speaker from the National Health Service in the UK which is extremely proactive in this area - they really are leading the way for the health sector globally," Rebecca says.

"Their talk touched on the carbon costs of general practices, particularly when it came to the procurement of pharmaceuticals, which creates a surprisingly large environmental footprint.

"It gave Rochelle and I the impetus we needed and we worked for close onto a year to create the toolkit."

The Greening General Practice Guide was launched in Christchurch in 2010, with the event being disrupted by the 7.1 Canterbury earthquake.

"Maybe it was a sign of planetary support," laughs Rebecca.

Since then the free guide has been requested by GP practices all over the country, as well as private medical businesses, physiotherapists and even veterinary surgeons.

But while the response has been pleasing, Rebecca still feels a sense of frustration about the lack of action from those at the top.

"There is a sense that our government need to step up and become more of a leader on the global stage with this issue," she says. "It's the one thing that impacts on all humans on all sorts of levels. As a Pacific nation, we also have a duty of care to our Pasifika neighbours."

Although action is needed on a worldwide scale, Rebecca says that we can all play our part.

"Have a look at the toolkit, which contains links that can help you consider your carbon footprint and make suggestions on what you can do to reduce it, such as carbon off-setting organisations.

"In terms of the health sector, secondary care offers up the most opportunities to make the biggest impact, but that isn't to say that GP clinics and practices can't play their part."

"The lifestyle calculator – www.ekos.org.nz/lifestyle-calc - is also very revealing and makes you realise how much you are adding to the problem and what you can do about it."

The passion they installed in their mother has been passed down to Rebecca's children Hugo and Julia who are part of the second wave of climate protectors coming through.

"It's going to take every single one of us to do what we can right now if we are going to effect meaningful change for the generations to come," Rebecca says. "And that doesn't mean we all have to go off the grid, walk everywhere and never use anything that needed to be imported. It means making those small changes that, when added together, make a difference.

"Ride an electric bike instead of taking the car, drive an electric or low cc vehicle, try to fly as little as possible. You don't have to be perfect to change the world, you just have to be willing to change what you can."