The health risks from climate change are mounting
While there is a lot of heat surrounding the climate change debate, one issue that has received less public attention is the impact of global warming on our health.
Adelaide is currently experiencing a record breaking heatwave and has been on catastrophic fire danger alert, and this even is before summer has even begun. These events provide a timely reminder of the consequences of extreme weather on the health and safety of the population.
With global warming, inevitably we will suffer more heatwaves with longer and hotter summers. Australia - more than almost any other country- will be vulnerable to climate change-related illness and death.
Those most at risk will be the elderly, the young and those with chronic health problems.
As you know, there is a political battle in Canberra over Australia’s response to climate change.
Most of the debate so far has focussed on the consequences of cutting carbon emissions on the future shape of our economy and employment.
While it is often argued that the environment and economy have a lot to lose from inaction on climate change, I believe the nation’s health is also at risk.
Climate change is set to deliver hotter summers and milder winters for the planet.
As a result, the World Health Organisation predicts that there will be fewer deaths as a result of extreme cold, and more deaths as a result of extreme heat and unpredictable heat waves.
While these forecasts might offer some small comfort to people living in countries like Finland or Canada, it is certainly alarming for those of us who live on the hottest continent in the world.
There are other likely negative impacts from climate changes on health.
Hotter temperatures and higher humidity are likely to lead to an increase in diseases carried by mosquitoes in Australia.
Of particular concern is the likelihood of the increased incidence of Dengue Fever.
Dengue fever is a disease with severe symptoms that can ultimately lead to death and already there have been sporadic outbreaks in Far North Queensland.
Modelling by Dr Rosalie Woodruff of the Australian National University predicts that with climate change Dengue Fever could spread from Far North Queensland down the east coast and west coast.
Heat waves and mosquito-borne diseases are just two examples of how climate change may affect the heath of Australians.
I believe the climate change threat to health is another compelling argument for the need to act to reduce carbon pollution.
But more than this, with the inevitable warming of the planet even with global agreement of cutting emissions, we need to start planning now about how to deal with the emerging health threat.
We need to find ways to protect the well-being of the nation.
One of the most powerful arguments for action on climate change is the legacy we leave our children.
We should not leave future generations with a planet deeply impacted by climate change with major consequences for the environment, the economy and the health of people.
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