Leading epidemiologist and public health researcher Professor Tony McMichael has been honoured with a two day festschrift in Canberra to celebrate his work on the occasion of his retirement from the National Centre for Population Health and Epidemiology at Australian National University (NCEPH-ANU).
Current and former colleagues, students, and members of the national and international public health community gathered to reflect on, and pay tribute to, the work of the man described as “the world’s leading scholar and commentator on the relationship between global climate change and human health.”
However while Professor McMichael might be best known for his climate and health research – as Dr Maria Neira from World Health Organisation said: “for W.H.O., Tony is the guru on climate and health” – presentations from fellow researchers and students over the two days demonstrate an extraordinarily broad ranging research career. Professor McMichael has made seminal contributions to scientific and human understanding of the health implications of tobacco, the health risks from lead production, uranium mining, rubber production, and ozone depletion as well as climate change.
Many of those present recounted how their careers had been influenced by Professor McMichael’s’ work, particularly his seminal text: “Planetary Overload”, published in 1993, which outlined the threats to health from climate change, ozone depletion, land degradation, loss of biodiversity and the explosion of cities.
Professor McMichael’s work as a public health researcher and epidemiologist has been instrumental in the phasing out of lead in more than 100 countries; key to legal decisions to determine what constituted scientific proof in relation to harm to human health from tobacco; and profoundly influential in highlighting how the health of the natural environment and the health of the biosphere is fundamental to human health.
Reflecting Professor McMichael’s diverse interests and love of the arts, the festschrift was not only a stimulating intellectual event, but featured an art exhibition: the Contested Landcapes of Western Sydney, curated by Tony’s colleague and friend from ANU, artist John Reid. The festschrift celebration dinner in the Great Hall at University House featured the remarkable talents of Tony’s daughter Anna McMichael on violin and Daniel de Borah on piano. Other family members also at the festschrift included Tony’s other daughter, anthropologist Celia McMichael, brother and sociologist Philip McMichael and wife Judith Healy.
Colleague and joint festschrift organiser (with Jane Dixon and Tony Capon) Colin Butler closed the conference by saying that it would take “months to fully explore the breadth and depth of Tony’s career” and “even then we might not fully understand it”. We did however, as Colin said, catch a glimpse, and what an inspiring glimpse it was.