Introduction by Croakey: Two new reports, published in The Lancet (register for free access) and The Medical Journal of Australia, have presented a bleak picture of the world’s response to the climate crisis, calling for an urgent escalation of mitigation and adaptation efforts.
See this 17-page Twitter summary of both reports, which ends with the query:
What is the legal accountability of federal health ministers and policy makers who have been warned and warned of the threat to Australian people’s health…and not acted?”
Meanwhile, as Australian health professionals joined protests on the frontlines this week, others participated in a #ClimateHealthChampions workshop in nipaluna/Hobart, convened by the Climate and Health Alliance.
Workshop participants shared their frustration, distress and anger at the Federal Government’s failure to provide leadership, and discussed the wide-ranging health impacts of the climate crisis, including upon mental health and wellbeing (see this 15 page Twitter summary, including a presentation by public health physician Dr Elizabeth Haworth).
Watch this clip from public health physician Professor Peter Sainsbury and other health professionals protesting at the Adani Carmichael coal mine site in Queensland this week, several of whom were later arrested. (Associate Professor Linda Selvey, now at the University of Queensland, previously had a senior role in Queensland Health).
In the article below Dr Arnagretta Hunter, a consultant physician and clinical senior lecturer at the ANU Medical School, explores some of the human costs of inaction.
Arnagretta Hunter writes:
This week, while large areas of eastern Australia burn with an unprecedented fire season, the international medical journal, The Lancet, released its annual Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change.
Like our fires locally, it paints a grim picture of the world without serious action of climate change. And again, this annual report highlights the tremendous gains of taking effective action today.
The report invites us to use our imagination thinking of a child born this year.
You might have a friend or family member who’s currently pregnant or has young children. Imagine the world now and into the future through their eyes.
Broadly there are two courses their climate life may take, particularly with respect to their health and wellbeing. A world where radical action is taken to reduce carbon pollution today, and the temperature rise over their lifetime is kept under 2 degrees, or the current pathway where they will age in a world with an average temperature more than 4 degrees hotter than we have today.
These are diametrically different pathways with profound effects on health and wellbeing for that small baby’s life.
Air pollution records have recently been shattered in New Delhi, India. For family expecting their babies soon in New Delhi, climate change is already an issue for their unborn child.
The health effects of severe air pollution affect the unborn child and are associated with smaller babies, prematurity and a small increase in the risk of stillbirth.
Addressing air pollution is at the centre of climate change. Air pollution is directly related to the burning of fossil fuels.
Imagine the lives of those children in India if we continue to burn fossil fuels giving them annual exposure to terrible air pollution; and conversely the tremendous health and longevity advantages of stopping fossil fuel pollution today.
But is this Indian example applicable in Australia?
Australia is the largest net exporter of coal in the world. We are responsible for worse air pollution globally. Australian coal will have contributed to the poor air quality seen in India.
But air pollution is also affecting the lives of Australian children and adults. Across NSW and Sydney this week with the bushfires, we see very high levels of air pollution – particularly PM2.5 – PM 10 – which we know cause heart attack and stroke, and respiratory illness.
The current air pollution issues in NSW are a consequence of the extraordinary fires, which are strongly influenced by climate change, which has seen drier conditions than we usually experience.
We know cumulative air pollution exposure causes diseases in ways similar to smoking. Cardiovascular disease, lung disease, reduced quality and quantity of life, attributable to air pollution. A risk all reduced with climate action now.
No doubt the fires have many people wondering about heat over the coming Australian summer.
Australians are tough. We like good summer weather, sunburn, beaches and cricket. As explored in the recent ACT Commission of Sustainability and Environment Report, Heat, Humanity and the Hockey Stick, all of this is compromised by significantly hotter temperatures.
Restrictions on recreational sport have been updated to reflect the safety issues of playing outdoors during very hot summer days.
A child born today may never have the opportunity to play test cricket in summer in Australia because the temperatures will be too high to complete full days play.
More seriously the patterns of exercise that keep many Australians healthy may be seriously compromised by changes to our summer heat and weather patterns.
Heat poses a direct challenge to our health, causing problems like heatstroke, dehydration, kidney and cardiac failure.
But it also affects our activity, our sport, our social engagement. Populations with high temperatures, and limited overnight cooling, are crankier. There is more interpersonal violence. Academic results are affected and productivity decreases.
If this heat is expected for longer and longer periods, the resultant change on our community will be profound.
Calling for imagination
We also understate the tremendous benefits of action.
Transition away from burning fuel for transportation, increasing active transportation, improves the health of communities. Encouraging nutritional transitions toward a diet made with less processing, more vegetables and less meat, improves our weight, our health and our mood.
The Lancet asks us to use our imagination. In the climate debate today, we need more imagination.
We do not need more scientific reports, however valuable and stark.
We don’t need another 10,000 scientists to tell us what we know and can already see.
We need imagination and change to help us to save our generation and those to come.
The need for vision, action and collaboration has never been so great.
Let’s harness the extraordinary opportunity this challenge gives us to create the best possible world for a baby born today.
If you value Croakey’s coverage of climate and health, please consider supporting our Patreon fundraising campaign, so we can provide regular, in-depth coverage of the health impacts of the climate crisis, taking a local, national and global approach. All funds raised will go to a dedicated fund to pay writers and editors to put a sustained focus on the health impacts of climate change. Please help us to produce stories that will inform the health sector, policy makers, communities, families and others about how best to respond to this public health crisis.