By Devaki Wallooppillai
Interhealth Code Green and Doctors for the Environment Australia Climate Change and Health Night with Professor Fiona Stanley
On April 15, 2014, Professor Fiona Stanley (one of WA’s most notable epidemiologists and paediatricians) explained to doctors and medical students at the QEII medical centre, how climate change is our biggest challenge in global health.
The contention surrounding the latest UN climate change report’s release compelled Professor Stanley to discuss the role of science in general in public discourse, stating that “my frustration is when these issues become politicized, we need science more than anything, and yet scientists are being denigrated.”
Her talk highlighted the need for Australia to act on this urgent issue, for which the evidence was extremely strong. The recent UN report summarizes this evidence, and describes a wide range of complex interactions between a changing environment and the determinants of health. Extreme weather events such as the recent UK floods or Typhoon Haiyan don’t only cause deaths or physical injury and illness, but also have long-term mental health impacts, greatly increasing the risk of depression and anxiety – and the report’s authors notes that these are likely to become more intense as the climate changes. In Australia, the number of “dangerously hot” days (where outdoor work and play is considered hazardous) is forecasted by one study to rise dramatically, from 4-6 days per year now to 33-45 per year by 2070.
More obvious health impacts like these are only the tip of the iceberg. Fiona also made reference to the indirect health impacts which include changing patterns of infectious diseases such as dengue and malaria, or increases in both water scarcity and water-borne diseases. They also highlight impacts such as malnutrition arising from reductions in agricultural production and wild fish population collapse in some parts of the world’s oceans will increase food insecurity, especially for the world’s poor. With high confidence, the report notes that crop failure related to climate change will have a profoundly negative impact on nutrition around the world. Studies included in the report project an additional 170 million undernourished people in the world by the end of this century, which would in turn cause a rise in nutritional stunting in much of the world, with sub-Saharan Africa experiencing a 31-55% increase in severe stunting in children.
Ms Jamie Farrant from 350.org (an international climate policy and advocacy group) discussed their work around divestment. This involves talking to individuals, companies, organizations, and universities (medical schools??!) about the importance of ensuring their investment portfolios are not surreptitiously financing the fossil-fuel industry (and hence, harming public health). On May 2nd and 3rd, they’re holding a “Divestment Day”, where you can take the first step by thinking about moving personal savings to a bank which will invest them sustainably and ethically.
To wrap up the evening, Dr Sallie Forrest gave some great examples of how individuals can get involved through Doctors for the Environment Australia and Interhealth’s Code Green.
For more information on what you can do:
All figures and statistics are drawn from the Working Group II report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, available at ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5