Climate Change Is Going To Have Huge Effects On Health And Scientists Want To Change Policy To Prepare
Suicide and infectious disease rates, and heat stroke-related deaths, are all projected to rise.
A new report from 19 leading Australian scientists has outlined the impact that climate change is going to have on health and has made a number of policy recommendations to mitigate the damage.
The report is the first in an annual series from the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) and was produced in connection with medical journal the Lancet for the Lancet Countdown, an international collaborative project that has been tracking the impact of climate change on health internationally since 2015.
Professor Anthony Capon, director of the University of Sydney's Planetary Health Platform, told BuzzFeed News the report shows the key health issues the Australian government will need to focus on as the planet warms, including the dangers of heatwaves, mental health impacts and infectious diseases.
As the planet warms, infectious diseases like dengue fever that are currently contained to tropical areas in Australia's far north will become more apparent on mainland Australia, the report warns.
The authors say Australia will need a "comprehensive public health response" including early warning systems to prevent deaths in regions that will become vulnerable to the disease.
The mental health impacts of climate change are well-documented, with temperature-associated sleep disturbances triggering issues such as depression and anxiety related to the impending global problems of global warming.
Studies have also found that the number of hospitalisations due to self harm increase on hotter days, with a 0.7% increase in suicidal incidents for every 1C rise in temperature.
The authors of the report say continuing global warming can "be expected to lead to increased suicide rates".
Capon said that the mental health impact will be felt hardest and fastest by communities with a close relationship to the land, such as Indigenous Australians and farmers.
"Declines in agricultural productivity, declines in income, affect mental wellbeing and suicide rates in rural communities," he said.
Capon noted that the government's inaction on climate change can contribute to feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
"Our elected officials are seemingly not doing anything about it [climate change] – that's a great stressor for many Australian people, particularly young people, so it's important that our elected officials do more," he said.
Capon believes Australia has an ethical obligation to begin decarbonising its energy system. He said that burning coal isn't just heating the planet, it's creating air pollution that is thought to be responsible for 460,000 premature deaths annually.
"We produce 7% of the world's coal every year," he said. "That means that the burning of our coal when it's sold overseas is probably responsible for about 30,000 deaths per annum," he said.
"The policy inaction that we're seeing in this country, particularly from the national government, is threatening Australian lives and lives around the world."
Capon said that Australia needs to begin implementing urban planning techniques to cool cities down naturally, so people won't need to rely so heavily on air-conditioning as heatwaves become more extreme.