“It is clear that if we are destroying the Natural Environment, we’re destroying the foundations for human health & well-being”
COVID-19 may have pushed back memories of the summer 2020 bushfires for many Australians but, what is inescapable, is the huge impact it had on so many of us. Let this sink in: 33 deaths, 3094 houses destroyed, 17 million of hectares burnt, likely loss of over one billion mammals, birds and reptiles, and more than 11 million Australians affected by smoke.
So, it was timely to have two health experts remind us of the impacts of climate change on human health at the Clever Living seminar .
Our first presenter, Dianna McDonald, is the Social Research Lead in Sustainability Victoria’s climate change team. Her research investigated Victorian’s awareness and knowledge of the links between health and climate change. In surveying 3000 members of the public and over 600 health care professionals working in Victoria, this research revealed:
- Low public awareness of the health and climate change link, even given that 90% identified health as their top priority
- Low knowledge of the types of health conditions that are likely to become more common
- Problems with the thermal quality of housing and impacts on health, and
- Emotional responses to climate change are concerning, particular among the young (15 to 24-year olds) who are more likely to recognise the health link.
There were some encouraging findings from surveys on health professionals: 84% consider that climate change is already impacting human health and 91% say it will have future impacts. Less encouraging was the fact that only 26% currently discuss climate change with their patients (mainly because they don’t feel they have the knowledge) and 5 to 10% who are sceptical of climate change or, perhaps, feel there are higher priorities for investment in the health sector.
Our second presenter, Dr Rebecca Patrick is Vice President of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) and Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Deakin University. CAHA is the country’s peak body on climate change and health and its mission is to build a powerful health sector movement for climate action. Rebecca is involved in multiple climate and health related projects at different scales including the Hobsons Bay Wetland Centre, Otways Fire and Rain Summit and a National Climate Health Research Network.
Rebecca spoke highly of the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA), which was launched with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation in 2016. The PHA is a consortium of over 200 universities, non-governmental organisations, research institutes, and government entities from around the world committed to understanding and addressing global environmental change and its health impacts.
Rebecca reminded us of the wealth of scientific evidence behind the links between poor health and climate change and how reducing greenhouse gases will lead to considerable health improvements. She noted that vehicle emissions cost the Australian economy more than $3b per year.
Despite the Australian Medical Association recognising that the consequences of climate change have serious observed and projected health impacts, Australia is lagging many countries in its policies on climate change and health.
An important takeaway from Rebecca was her opinion that health is the most effective frame when communicating about climate change. For this reason alone, the health sector has a huge part to play in interfacing across most other sectors and in development of their policies.
With 40 million health workers around the world endorsing a green recovery, there is no doubt that the health sector will be very important in securing action on climate change.
For further information
- Psychology for Safe Climate & Better Health - for help with Eco-anxiety
- Better Health website