Climate Change and Health
Climate change will have a considerable and lasting impact on our health, and these effects are starting to be felt even today. It is disrupting our national economies, polluting the air, impacting the water supplies, changing the spread of disease and impacting food bioavailability.
While we can’t directly reverse the damage we have caused, we can employ two methods to improve long-term health outcomes; adaptation to the new climate or mitigation of the driving factors:
Adaptation refers to policies that reduce the severity of the effects, such as building emergency medical centres in areas likely to be affected by natural disasters or expanding research into vaccinations against parasite-borne diseases. On the other hand, mitigation describes actions that will limit the extent of climate change such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and engaging in more energy efficient practices.
Realistically however, the only way to ease the impending threat to our health is to employ a combination of strategies targeting both mitigation and adaptation. For too long we have done nothing and even refuted the evidence before us, when it is clear that inaction is not neutrality. The startling reality is that greenhouse gas emissions are at an all-time high, and without action the world’s average surface temperature is predicted to rise by 3 degrees within the century.
At a national level, we need to encourage greener and more resilient economies which prioritise cleaner renewable energy sources. Keeping this in mind, it is important to realise that climate change does not respect borders and so international cooperation and a global focus towards a common goal is essential. In line with this, many countries have prescribed to the ‘Paris Agreement’ which implores its members to take actions that will slow the rise in global temperature to below 2 degrees:
Progress So Far:
Australia is keeping well in line with our international commitments on climate change. Australia easily met its Kyoto Protocol target of limiting emissions to 108% of 1990 levels, on average, over the period 2008–2012. In fact, over the five reporting years during the period, Australia’s net emissions averaged only 103% of the base year level. Furthermore, we have met the ongoing targets for our ‘Direct Action Plan on Climate Change’ and are set to reduce our emissions by 5% below 2000 levels, by the year 2020.
What Can We Do?
There are many societal changes we can make that will mitigate the extent of climate change. Source: World Health Organisation
Vote with your feet, your wallet, and your ballot paper
Reduce your involvement in products/companies driven by fossil fuels, and instead increase your stake in energy efficient companies. If a company refuses to adopt green production strategies, then vote with your feet and refuse to support them. Further, think about climate issues when you approach the voting booths and vote for candidates who support positive climate-related legislation, especially in relation to health policy. Given the destructive impacts on climate change, a positive action would be to lobby for a Federal Department of Health Centre specifically for Climate Health or at least keep upto date with the latest climate negotiations.
Make Personal Changes
Review your own personal impact on the planet using tools like this, and make positive changes to reduce this impact. Think about switching to renewable energies, ensuring your lightbulbs and appliances are energy efficient and reduce your purchasing of meat. Watch videos about the effects of climate change and learn about the science and solutions! Adopting these strategies will eventually reduce the impact of climate change and so too reduce the impacts on our health.
Strengthen Health Systems and Enhance Scientific Knowledge
Keep up to date with the most-recent scientific evidence, attend a scientific conference on climate health or even contribute to the knowledge pool by getting involved in studies determining the impact on our health. Elucidating the true impacts on health will help develop the health systems and ensure they are well prepared for the future. Furthermore, this will ensure improvements to population health, increased climate resilience of communities and better preparedness for changes in climate-related diseases.
Raise Awareness and Advocate
Spread the word and raise awareness of climate related risks to health via advocacy campaigns and social media outlets. Make sure the policy makers hear you and ensure there are adequate health protection measures put in place. Sign petitions and join the thousands of others supporting the action against climate change. Even small changes such as advocating for climate-related health issues to be included on the medical curriculum.
Climate change in the future will have an unprecedented impact on our health and wellbeing. It is essential that we act today through both mitigation and adaptation strategies to protect one of the most important facets of our lives – our health. To learn more about what you can do, visit our ‘find out more’ tab in the side menu.
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