Adventures — 15 December 2021 at 9:07 pm

Sustainable Adventure in a Warming World

Dr Robin Barraclough / GP and rural hospital medicine practitioner / New Zealand

Robin shares his insights from the recent British Mountain Medicine Society (BMMS) winter webinar in October 2021 – ‘Sustainable Adventure in a Warming World’.

Narratives and stories are central to how we humans communicate and make sense of the world around us. Knowing this is also important in understanding and attempting to resolve the massive existential crisis that is the climate emergency. Stories give context and make things relatable – not just a distant issue, or someone else’s problem.

When I opened the recent webinar on, ‘Sustainable Adventure In A Warming World’ held by the British Mountain Medicine Society (BMMS), I wanted to offer a bit of my own journey and explain how I had a bit of a revelation in 2015 whilst living and working as a GP on the remote west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Based in a tourist town like Franz Josef Glacier, the main attraction has been the glacier for the last 100 years. However, I realised that it had transformed into one of the worlds’ busiest heliports, as access to the rapidly retreating glacier became too perilous on foot.

I was anxious when I initially wrote my open letter to the BMMS forum proposing a ‘Climate Hui’. I was aware that the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 26, was coming up a few months down the line in November 2021. I wasn’t sure how my ideas might be received, particularly with Covid-19 pandemic occupying the minds of most of the population. However, that being said, the responses I received were overwhelmingly positive. So when I realised there was an appetite for my ‘Climate Hui’ proposition it dawned on me I had to make it happen!

Above all, the speakers I chose had to be credible. I had seen both Dr David Pencheon and Prof Hugh Montgomery give talks before and I knew that they had a deep understanding in this field. Adding an eminent climate scientist, Prof Chris Rapley; and a researcher, Dr Catherine Campbell, with recent audit experience in expedition sustainability seemed like a no-brainer.

The webinar itself was extremely well attended, and thanks must go to the British Mountaineering Council for providing additional publicity for the event.

After some time spent reflecting upon the event I am left with the following observations:

  1. As clinicians, we increasingly have a moral and ethical duty to be proactive in global environmentalism and sustainability (‘do good, do no harm’ etc…)
  2. Mountain Medicine guidelines, protocols and recommendations should reflect this wider duty of care to the environment and our planet.
  3. The future of healthcare may increasingly promote ‘wellness’, rather than the curing of ‘illness’. Those of us with an interest in the outdoors and medicine may pioneer what it means to truly be a ‘well-being’, as well as leading the way for a ‘well-planet’.

The feedback from the event was very informative, and will no doubt be guiding our next steps. Perhaps the biggest outcome so far is that, combined with the actions of the Birmingham Medical Research Expedition Society meeting in September, the BMMS webinar has spurred on collaboration on a ‘Green Statement’ – a suggested framework for future sustainable medical expeditions. The work of Dr Catherine Campbell and co-ordination with Dr Jeremy Weber has been pivotal in its ongoing production.

The other reflection the event has left me with is that rather than the climate, and its associated healthcare emergency being seen as a ‘fringe issue’, it is now transitioning in the minds of the public (clinicians included) to be a ‘mainstream issue’. It is my hope that those who participated in the event became galvanised by science and motivated to act. It is the responsibility of everyone to solve this emergency and standing at the sidelines is no longer an option.

If you missed the ‘Sustainable Adventure in a Warming World’ winter webinar from the BMMS, watch the free recording of the evening here (Passcode: xdjaK!1Q).

Images courtesy of Robin Barraclough (author) and Rebecca Trimble (Adventure Medic editor).