Working life: Fighting for public and planetary health

Published on: 11 Sep 2023

Dr Christelle Blunden describes her work as an environmental changemaker.

Dr Christelle Blunden


I begin my week working for Southampton National Park City, a grassroots community campaign. We are working towards a greener, healthier city through a series of social and environmental initiatives. Today I need to get my head around the local council’s 20-year plan for biodiversity and write a brief on it for a public consultation. 

Biodiversity and habitat loss are eroding the quality of our soils, reducing the population of pollinators on which our food sources rely, and unleashing global pandemics. Yet during Covid I don’t think it was ever a big headline.


After another day of doing National Park City work, I debrief with the team from last week’s Health for Extinction Rebellion protest. Along with a retired GP and a psychiatrist, I travelled to JP Morgan Chase’s headquarters in London to highlight the organisation’s role as the world’s leading fossil fuel financier. 

First, we stopped at a nearby green space to hang our bright orange banner that read ‘J P Morgan stop bankrolling new oil and gas’. We then glued ourselves to the front façade and delivered a letter to the CEO requesting a meeting to discuss our concerns as health professionals, which was ignored. We were arrested, but not charged. 

I was disappointed that it wasn’t covered in the media. It seems the more reasonable your protest, the less people talk about it. But I feel relieved I wasn't charged, and my dear practice team still signed my contract knowing I’m a committed rebel.


I cycle to the surgery. As I’ve arrived early, I put out a bowl of perfectly edible but supermarket-rejected fruit for staff. We are signed up to the RCGP’s Green Impact for Health Toolkit, which lists more than 100 actions we can take to improve our environmental sustainability. We now have an e-bike for home visits and a wildflower garden.

As I log on to my computer, I’m pleased to see ScriptSwitch telling me to consider Ventolin’s carbon footprint. This sort of centralised initiative is needed for change to be scaled up, and I’m more than happy to educate patients on how to use a dry-powder inhaler as it’s the one area where I stand a chance of curtailing potent greenhouse gas emissions.


Another day of primary care. On my desk, I spot some low-carb diet information sheets; beef is top of the list of protein sources despite being the least effective way to get protein from a resource perspective. There’s a bit of tension between advocates of low-carb-high-meat diets and advocates of plant-based diets; both approaches have evidence of health benefit, but one is more consistent with what planetary resources can sustain. 

I feel the EAT-Lancet Commission has got it right with its diet for the planet research. To sustain the planet and ourselves, it says our diet should comprise 50% vegetables and minimal sugar, with only an eighth of it made up of animal produce. Diet is one of the main ways we can lower our carbon footprint, so if GPs took this research on board, it’d be one of the main ways to promote patient and planetary health.


It’s time for my favourite thing: river swimming. It’s my ultimate stress buster, and I don’t think I’d be able to carry on without it. That and the support of colleagues up and down the country, whose voices as trusted professionals play a key role in advocating change.

We must use our power to envision a future in which human health can truly thrive with respect to planetary health, as these things are inseparable. In the words of a Native American saying, ‘The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth'.

Dr Christelle Blunden is a GP in Southampton and Health for Extinction Rebellion member.

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Profile: Dr Christelle Blunden
Location: Southampton 
Role: Salaried GP; Member, Health for Extinction Rebellion 
Hours worked: 22 per week