DEA - Doctors for the environment

Origins and History of DEA

Initiation 1999-2003

Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) arose as a branch of the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE), based in Switzerland, founded in 1990 and with member organisations in 38 countries, mainly Europe and the Americas.

The aims of ISDE were to publicise the relationship between the condition of the environment and human health, promote environmentally-friendly behaviour amongst physicians, patients, and the public, and to cooperate at all political levels in the reduction of harmful environmental influences on health.

Following previous contact with Dr Gaudenz Silberschmidt, Executive Officer of ISDE, Tony McMichael met with Professor David Shearman at the London School of  Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1999 and they agreed that the most promising base for an Australian initiative was to explore becoming a branch of ISDE. David Shearman then visited Geneva to discuss this option with Dr Siblerschmidt. A decision was subsequently made to establish an Australian branch of ISDE 

The call to action in Australia commenced with an Editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia by Tony McMichael and Charles Guest in November 1999
“Doctors and the “environment” a call to arms for medical practitioners in Australia” (

The article concluded

Medical organisations such as the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (with its Australian affiliate, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War), and Medicins Sans Frontieres, have made contributions to world peace that have been recognised by the awarding of the Nobel Prize.  These efforts have continued over many years. Peace and the sustainability of the global environment are intertwined.  On environmental matters, no less an effort is required by our profession.

An advertisement for the formation of DEA was placed in the same issue of MJA, and recruitment commenced in 2000 by the placement of articles and personal contact.

David Shearman writes

The year 2000 was spent planning and included a stay in Switzerland working with Gaudenze Silberschmidt. Making contacts in Australia utilised many in the conservation movement, contacts made whilst I was President of the Conservation Council of SA in the early 1990s. These were early days for medical practitioner understanding of climate change and the year 2000 was spent on the phone, cajoling, educating and even twisting of arms. The key would be the identification of a Chair-elect, who was knowledgeable, committed, persistent, personable and with a stable marriage.

In 2001 this person, Bill Castleden, was identified. He had been a leading figure in successful WA campaigns to save the WA forests

Bill Castleden writes

Within weeks of giving up day-to-day forest involvement in 2001, I started to receive emails from a Professor David Shearman in Adelaide asking if I would be interested in joining a group of doctors he wanted to assemble to alert the public and the government about the close connection between a healthy environment and healthy human beings.
He wanted to start an Australian branch of the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE). I ignored his emails. I had had enough of campaigning for Doctors for the Forests in WA 

And still David Shearman persisted. He wrote of his almost lifelong commitment to environmental causes, of his past-Chairmanship of the South Australian Conservation Council and his book writing and his publications. After months of email bombardment and discussions with Wendy, we agreed that we would go for a weekend to the Mornington Peninsular south of Melbourne to meet the potential steering group of doctors he had collected from each State to form what he hoped would be called “Doctors for the Environment, Australia” (DEA). I was not really sure what it was all about or if they were all too deeply green to be reasonable human beings!

Towards the end of 2001 several key doctors had been identified  and a first planning teleconference was held in October. Colin Butler, Grant Blashki, Kevin Chamberlin and Roscoe Taylor joined David Shearman and Bill Castleden. A further teleconference planning meeting was held in May 2002 when organisational matters, structures, finance etc were discussed. Plans were made for a face to face meeting;-

The Mornington meeting October 2002
This was a key meeting in establishing relationships and launching DEA
The meeting took place in a magnificent modern architectural beauty of a house on the Mornington peninsular with striking artwork and wonderful cliff top ocean views.
Grant Blashki hosted the meeting for he had become a key player in establishing DEA

Bill Castleden writes

David Shearman had carefully constructed a full weekend of meetings and presentations during which we had ample time to assess each other’s possible strengths and weaknesses. Over the final lunch and afternoon he had asked Don Henry, Executive Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation and David Yencken of the Australian Collaboration to come to meet with us and to talk with us. They made us feel we could, as a medical organisation, play a very important role in the overall effort to ensure a healthy environment for the next generations of Australians to grow into.

Our egos suitably massaged, we all agreed to set up DEA. I was to be the co-opted Western Australian representative until such time as the organisation was formally constituted and elections could be called and held.

David Shearman with his amazing persistence undertook to complete the necessary paperwork and on the 19th October 2002 “Doctors for the Environment, Australia” was well on its way to becoming a fully constituted environmental entity at the Mornington meeting”.

Also in 2002 A number of key articles were published  in medical journals and magazines to interest the profession in climate change and to provide text for circulation. Foremost of these was Shearman D. Time and tide wait for no man. BMJ 2002; 325: 1466-1468 

Canberra 2003  
At its first formal Annual General Meeting in Canberra in November 2003, which linked with a symposium entitled “In Search of Sustainability” at the Shine Dome,  c the Management Committee elected Bill Castleden as Chair of the organisation and David Shearman as Secretary.  DEA was still in an embryonic state.

More to come……


We would like to thank the Medical Journal of Australia for allowing us to reproduce the attached article and advertisement from their archives.