July 2019: UK Doctor goes on hunger strike to push for climate action

Posted by: HealthXR - Posted on:

Hunger Strike Statement

I made the decision to go on hunger strike on 14/07/2019 hoping that I might add something to the push for more aggressive action regarding climate change and the broader ecological crisis.

I don’t generally encourage hunger strikes; in particular I would criticise any young activists’ involvement as it may encourage people to get involved without appropriate maturity and support.

I’m doing this both with a lot of forethought and also, as a clinician, as someone who has some understanding of the risks involved.

While I’m willing to encounter some risk and discomfort to make a point, I am continuing to take oral rehydration solution/vitamins and will reconsider my position on 28/07/19 or if significant risks emerge.

My understanding of climate change and the ecological crisis

For anyone starting off exploring climate change the 2018 IPCC report, with 91 authors and review editors, seems the authoritative place to start. The consensus here is that a global temperature increase peaking 1.5°C could be achieved, however this would require ‘rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’.

Their model entails bringing global CO2 emissions at net zero in 2050.

  • UK emissions as, presently calculated by Kyoto protocol, excludes international aeronautics, shipping and emissions involved on its imports
  • The UK is within the top 10 richest countries in the world
  • The UKs historical CO2 emissions are within the top 10 globally

There are criticisms of the IPCC as being way too optimistic (of course there are ‘deniers’ to so I’ll leave such discussions for more qualified people)

The declared UK target of 2050 reflects an ambition out of place with our economic responsibility and position. This is planning for all other nations being able and willing to meet the 2050 target – and also pay the bill for international aeronautics and shipping. This is clearly not reality.

Nine months after the IPCC statement that ‘rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ were necessary all we have is a declaration that one of the most able countries in the world will hand in its homework not a moment before the deadline.

The 1.5-2°C temperature rise seems unrealistically low. I have been unable to access scenarios from the IPCC that look at higher levels of temperature rise.

On top of this green-house gases are but one aspect of the ecological damage due to pollution and habitat loss. I’m sitting now looking at the same street I grew up in. There are more cars now but it looks pretty much the same. I find it very hard to appreciate the dramatic global changes that have happened, with the WWF estimating a 60% decline in vertebrae species over the past 50 years. Even a 2011 study suggesting that of weight of the worlds vertebrae land animals only 1% are now wild, the rest being people and our livestock. I fear that fishing, farming and population growth are pushed to be non-sustainable by competitiveness and this productivity has given a false sense of security.

Even this is looking at things merely in terms of meeting humanities basic needs, aside from any reverence or potential to learn from the natural world in itself.

My own background

I am a UK trained doctor who has worked largely in South Africa since 2010. I have also worked with a Humanitarian NGO in various countries. I am already shocked by the frailty in which a large proportion of people in the world live. For most of my life I’ve had the pleasure of seeing poverty and malnutrition a problem slowly improving. However the UN’s 2018 Food and Agriculture Report shows increasing ‘severe food insecurity and undernourishment’ since 2014. OCHA (2018 Humanitarian Overview) showed a large and increasing funding gap. The humanitarian world is preparing for everything getting worse.

It saddens me to think these are the first signs of a general decline in conditions globally.

It saddens me to come to the UK and see such a large and growing divide between rich and poor.

It saddens me how much work people will have to do in our present system to consider their life a benign effect on the world.

‘Work’ used to entail using and taking from an expanse of nature that could tolerate it and making things better for people. Many people now have no option but to take jobs at companies they do not support, companies whose actions are detrimental to life. There is not really a word for having to tolerate such a job, but ‘work’ doesn’t seem to do it justice.

And while this is going on: ‘Space tourism’. Is this what we have to offer to get money from those who have excess? Not ‘here is an opportunity to reduce untold human suffering’?

I do not want to leave this world worse of than I found it. I don’t believe children want to reach adulthood and come to understand that “yes – we destroyed all this for you.”

The world is a complicated place, I’ve preferred to keep my distance from politics. I’d rather stick to healthcare hoping that at least there, I should achieve something positive. Like over a thousand other doctors that have chosen to endorse Extinction Rebellion I’m fearful that our achievements could fall insignificant if there is not a shift in human behaviour.

Subsequently I started a hunger strike. Everyone’s busy, no-one has time, so this is just my short-hand way of saying that I think these issues matter (my utmost appreciation if you’ve read this far).

I have emailed Michael Gove/DEFRA and subsequently the department for BEIS with the details of the hunger strike, hoping to encourage the UK government to a more ambitious target to reach carbon-neutral and urgent action to mitigate climate change and the ecological crisis.

Many thanks,

Dr Clifford Kendall