Doctors Declare an Emergency


Dr Rebecca Hall

Rebecca works as a GP in the countryside town of Frome, Somerset.

My head is buzzing with ideas which is better than buzzing with anxiety. I’ve just been to my first Extinction Rebellion (XR) meeting. It feels so much better to be getting involved rather than hiding away, too scared to even mention climate change.

I’m no radical. I’m a GP, middle-aged and a bit overweight - very average. To be a GP you have to conform, work hard and do as you are told most of the time. I’ve always voted Green but lost my personal green focus when I became a GP. My medical trainer at the time insisted I had to have a car to do home visits. In Scotland, where I had been living and working, there was a greater focus on the environment, it seemed less so in South West England so I bought my first car twenty years ago at the age of 29.

When I heard the announcement about global warming last summer, I started to get very anxious, not sleeping much and unable to listen to the news. I had nightmares about positive feedback loops and exponential temperature gain. I felt guilt, terrified for my children and angry at myself for taking my eye off the ball. I’ve travelled a lot and consumed much over the years. I’ve also had children, though I consoled myself with the fact that one of my children is adopted. Yes, I’ve discussed family planning and adoption a lot in my professional life but I haven’t been at all eco-perfect.

Everyone seemed to be carrying on with their lives as normal. Don’t they know? Don’t they understand? How are they coping? Now I’m taking action. I’m challenging my colleagues, educating myself and getting involved with XR. I’m less anxious and I use growing my own veg as a way of coping with some of my anxiety.

Many of my conversations are medical consultations, one-on-one where there is a delicate balance of power. I’m used to raising difficult topics, delivering bad news and exploring motivations, attitudes and beliefs. I’m even happy challenging belief systems. I have set myself a target to try and mention climate change in every conversation. My usual What are you doing about your weight? question now has an extra element. It’s easier than you think and as yet, only once, has it stopped the conversation dead. Rarely have my attempts to discuss climate change been met with anything other than mutual concern and a productive exchange of ideas. Only once when I met a woman at a party who had homes in the UK and New York did I mention that I wouldn’t be visiting NY as I had decided to stop flying. She started telling me about going by boat, (hardly better), then gave up on me.


The british medical association (bma) and Newcastle upon tyne hospitals declare a climate emergency.

In GP consultations I like to explore motivations and beliefs. I then like to come up with a plan, ideally in partnership with the patient. I like to make this plan as specific as possible. Most of the actions on the plan will involve some lifestyle adjustment or change. And pretty much all of these actions will benefit both the individual and the planet. For example, one of my patients had high blood pressure (BP). She was not keen to take pills to bring it down and during our discussion revealed that she also wanted to lose weight for her daughter’s wedding. We discussed her preferred strategy and it included adding a daily walk into her week. The most practical solution was to actually make her commute to the shop where she worked four days a week part of her exercise schedule. This meant that she stopped using the car to go 2.5 miles each way each day and has now started to walk it. Initially she did it twice a week and now has increased it to four times a week. She has also cut out processed food from her diet, well mostly... She has lost weight, become fitter and has had a lower carbon footprint as a result. She has reduced her vehicle use, reduced her food miles and the carbon cost of manufacturing the food. Her BP has settled to within normal limits and there is no need for her to start taking medication. Reducing medication use has a huge impact on carbon emissions as primary care prescribing is a large percentage of the NHS pharmaceutical budget which is, in turn, a large percent of the carbon emissions of the NHS overall. She feels empowered, in control and responsible for her health.

Good for her, good for the planet.