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Talking Climate and Health: Queensland Minister for Health Steven Miles

“These events are also putting extraordinary pressure on our health system. Demand for ambulance services has literally been off the charts. They've had to change the scale of the graph they use to show me the number of ambulance call-outs each day.”


The Honorable Steven Miles MP is minister for health and minister for ambulance services in the Queensland Parliament. He’s also a Climate Reality Leader.

While he and his wife, Kim, were excitedly awaiting the arrival of their first child, Steven began to think more deeply about protecting Queensland's environment, including the Great Barrier Reef, for future generations. So he joined former US Vice President Al Gore at Climate Reality’s second-ever international training, in Melbourne, Australia in 2007, to learn more about the climate crisis and how to inspire communities to take action.

After the training, he developed a national program to teach workplace representatives about the climate change challenge. It was the first of many incredible steps he would take in the years that followed.

He was first elected to the Queensland Parliament in 2015, becoming minister for environment and the Great Barrier Reef. He took over the health portfolio in 2017, and continues to serve the people of Queensland in the position.

Steven has been a proud member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, and as part of our December 2018 global broadcast event, 24 Hours of Reality: Protect Our Planet, Protect Ourselves, he joined journalist Josh Elliott to discuss climate action in Australia, the health impacts of the record heat waves that plagued the nation late last year, and much more.

Interview condensed and edited for brevity.

Josh Elliot: Minister Miles, it is great to welcome you back to the show. Always great to have you. And for people who might not know, in fact, you've been a part of Climate Reality now for over a decade – 11 years now. Is it fair to say that the work you've done with Climate Reality has actually influenced the work you've done there in Australia?

Minister Steven Miles: G'day, Josh. It's fantastic to be with you again. It's certainly true that I've been part of The Climate Reality Project now for 11 years. I signed up when my wife was pregnant with our first son, Sam, and he's 11 now. Old enough to join the campaign himself. And throughout that whole time, it's really been a common thread in my political activism, trying to make sure that we do as a state and as a country what we need to do to address climate change. We've got two more kids now, but I'm still doing it for them – those three little kids.

JE: Now, just a couple of minutes ago, we heard the vice president detail the innumerable challenges faced there in Australia. But now as the minister of health, what are the health impacts now that you were seeing due to climate crisis in Queensland?

SM: It's already a pretty hot country, Australia, and when you make the planet hotter that flows through here. We're just in Queensland coming to the end of a record heat wave, a record November heat wave, and the biggest impact is in terms of the immediate heat stress that affects the elderly and children, in particular. Many of them have found themselves in our hospitals this last week, this last week or two. The heat though has also led to an extraordinary number of bush fires. At one stage, we were fighting more than 160 bush fires and they bring with them smoke, of course, asthma, other respiratory diseases that are also affecting Queenslanders.

JE: It also then impacts the financial bottom line. What sort of impact are you seeing as it regards health care cost there?

SM: Obviously our first concern is for the health of Queenslanders, but these events are also putting extraordinary pressure on our health system. Over the last week, the demand for ambulance services has literally been off the charts. They've had to change the scale of the graph they use to show me the number of ambulance call-outs each day, and of course, those kinds of health services are very expensive and we're needing many more of them as it heats up.

JE: Then let's turn the glass half-full, if but for a moment. What then can you do? What is being done to combat this?

SM: Our focus very much has been on transferring our economy to renewables and we've been really successful at that in recent years. We've set our goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030 and we're on track to get there, and that's really the best way to change our entire economy is to change the kind of fuel we're using.

Watch the full interview below:

JE: And to that point, Australia again is the largest exporter of coal in the world. Obviously, it's been historically vital to the Australian economy. But given that, then, how do you influence, if nothing else, the political attitudes on matters related to the climate crisis, in particular, when those things seem to run at such loggerheads into each other?

SM: Look, it's true that much of the prosperity we enjoy now has been built off the back of those cheap fossil fuels. And that's also meant that when campaigning for climate action, we've come against some very well-resourced, vested interests. But I believe and I know that our state is also the source of some of the best, most-plentiful, cheapest renewable energy, particularly solar but also wind and others, and that can really drive that next wave of prosperity through our state and we're already seeing that change happening.

JE: Given the fact that the prime minister there in Australia is such an ardent supporter of coal [and] fossil fuels, for you personally, how difficult is it then to manage that politically? Again, when your PM holds such view at such the opposite end of the spectrum?

SM: Well, it has been pretty hard to see our prime minister embrace coal the way that he has really aggressively. But I guess the great thing about Australia is our prime ministers don't last too long – and I'm pretty sure we're gonna have one pretty soon who’ll be much more committed to renewables, much more committed to working with us to deliver that transition, and I'm really looking forward to that.

JE: There's so much more that is great about Australia and Dr. Stepven Miles, again, we appreciate your participation for an eleventh year. We are holding you to your twelfth. We will see you in 364-and-a-half or so days from now. We thank you very much.