Combating climate change, one step at a time

Associate Professor Linda Selvey’s blood runs green. Born into a family of environmental activists, the former Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO has been campaigning against climate change for decades. 

Growing up in 1960s Darwin, Dr Selvey witnessed her father lead a successful campaign against fogging for mosquitoes using malathion and diesel.

“Fogging was not very effective at killing mosquitoes, but it killed many fish, frogs and birds,” Dr Selvey recalls.

“Seeing my Dad’s dedication to conservation and preserving the environment was my introduction to environmental health, and is something that helped shape my career.”

Now Associate Professor at the School of Public Health, Dr Selvey’s career started on a somewhat unusual path.  

While studying medicine at UQ, she became enthralled with medical research and opted to pursue it alongside her conservation activities with the Rainforest Conservation Society of Queensland and The Wilderness Society.  

As a fresh PhD graduate, Dr Selvey moved to Washington DC to work at the National Institutes of Health, and it was here that she began volunteering with a local community outreach program.

“I was creating exercise programs and support groups for grandmothers; working with them to find solutions to their social and economic circumstances. I found it far more interesting than the work I was doing in the lab. So I thought studying public health might be the right path for me.”

Dr Selvey enrolled in a Master of Applied Epidemiology and was posted to Queensland Health to complete her degree. She ultimately became Executive Director of Population Health Queensland.

But the call towards conservation and environmental activism remained. After being trained by Al Gore to speak on climate change, and subsequently presenting about its health impacts, Selvey was soon appointed CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.  

“Being part of a global organisation with all its arms trying to work together to deal with climate change was both extremely challenging and rewarding.”

Though Dr Selvey has moved into academia at the School of Public Health, she is committed to spending more of her time fighting climate change.

“By stopping climate change, there’s a real opportunity to build a better world. A lot of what’s driving climate change is also driving other really bad things – like divisions in society, increasing gaps between the rich and poor, and racism. We won’t tackle climate change until we address all of those other problems too."

This story is featured in the Summer 2018 edition of UQMedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine visit our blog, MayneStream.