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Climate change bad for your health, report says

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Climate change might not kill you in the short term, but it’s not going to be great for your health.

Especially the health of our most vulnerable like babies and the elderly. That’s the message from the Climate Commission’s second report The Critical Decade: Climate Change and Health which looked at the link between rising global temperatures and the health of Australians.

The biggest factor would be deaths from heatwaves rising to between 8000 and 11,000 projected per year by the end of the century, up from around 6000 per year in 1990.

When Melbourne endured three days with temperatures above 43 degrees in 2009, 980 people died – 374 more than the average number – and in the 2004 Brisbane heatwave, the average rate of death rose 23 per cent.

Climate Commissioner and co-author of the report Professor Lesley Hughes said the biggest finding of the report is that, “climate change is one of the most serious threats to Australians’ health, especially those in our community who are already most vulnerable.”

“We often think about climate change as something that affects the environment. But of course we depend on the environment, for clean air, safe water, tolerable temperatures and good food. Climate change is putting pressure on the systems that support us and our health.”

“It is important that Australians are aware of the risks of climate change to their health and the health of their family and community. That is why we have produced this report”.

“Climate change related injury, disease and deaths will continue to grow in decades to come unless sustained action is taken by Australia and other nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is the critical decade for action.”

A graph from the report showing projected heatwave deaths

The projected number of days over 35 degrees in the coming years rise for each capital city, increasing by weeks in 2100. For Darwin in 2100 the projection is 312 days over 35 degrees.

The report also warns that some infectious diseases like Dengue fever will spread as the rest of Australia warms. It is currently confined to north-east Australia.

The report also makes note of increasing, more intense extreme weather events.

“There is evidence that climate change has already led to a change in the frequency, duration and intensity of extreme weather
events (IPCC, 2011; Pall et al., 2011; Rahmstorf and Coumou, 2011; Trenberth, 2011), such as temperature extremes, storms and floods. These events have health, social and economic costs.

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Natural disasters cause injuries, disease and death; they also cause social disruption and cost billions of dollars in damage. The December 2010 and January 2011 flooding in Queensland and tropical cyclones Anthony and Yasi demonstrate the catastrophic effects that extreme weather events can have on life, health and infrastructure. More than 78% of Queensland was declared a disaster zone and 35 people were killed by the floods; in total, about 2.5 million people were affected.

It is difficult to directly attribute individual extreme events, such as the Queensland floods or cyclones, to climate change because these kinds of events occur as part of natural climate variability. However, recent changes in our climate, such as the warming of the surface of the ocean are creating conditions that are more favourable for generating extremes such as floods and intense cyclones.”

There is also, the report says, a link to increased instances of poor mental health in the future, especially in rural areas, as livelihoods depend on the land and the agricultural economy. Extended and more intense droughts would be the obvious cause of income stress for farmers and graziers.

The ultimate message from the report is this: be alert, but not alarmed.

And most of all, be prepared. That one’s mostly aimed at the authorities who will be responsible for the services to help the country cope.

The report was reviewed by experts of the Climate Commission Science Advisory Panel, which includes members of the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology and was launched this morning.

What’s your take on the report?

Tags: australian-politics , current-affairs , politics
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