Climate change is already killing us and will continue to cause more deaths in Australia if we don’t mitigate the growing emergency, the Australian Medical Association has warned.
Australia’s top medical body on Tuesday declared climate change a health emergency, warning that it will have deadly consequences in Australia and the Pacific.
“These effects are already being observed internationally and in Australia. There is no doubt that climate change is a health emergency,” association president Tony Bartone said.
“The scientific reality is that climate change affects health and wellbeing by increasing the situations in which infectious diseases can be transmitted, and through more extreme weather events, particularly heatwaves.”
When asked if climate change was already causing deaths in Australia, association member Dr Chris Moy told The New Daily that: “Yes, there is evidence of that.”
“There is climate change causing severe health effects. Heat stress causes severe symptoms, but also death. There is evidence of death from increasing temperatures.”
Not only is it already having an impact on the health of Australians, but also the nation’s economic productivity, he said.
“Heat stress, the impact of heat on the workforce is estimated at a $6.2 billion loss on the economy. There’s already estimated productivity loss, but also greater mortality in the eastern capitals,” he said.
Dr Liz Hanna, chairwoman of the World Federation of Public Health Associations’ environmental health working group, said the rate of people dying as a result of the warming planet had been increasing for years.
“People are already dying from this,” she said.
“There’s an upper limit to how much heat the human body can tolerate. What we’re finding is that more and more days are getting close to that level or over the top of that level,” she said.
“The trend is there and it’s all going to continue.”
A deadly emergency
Dr Hanna said it’s hard to say how many people have already died as a result of climate change in Australia, but the risk becomes clear with each heat wave.
“The way that’s calculated is, in Melbourne 100 or so people will die every day. That figure is reported to the health department daily,” she explained.
“When we have a heatwave, those figures go up astronomically and they’re recorded as excess deaths. We know it’s because of the heat.”
But it’s not just the rise in heat that’s causing health issues, Dr Hanna said.
“The big one going on at the moment is the depression that happens in drought, floods and storms,” she said.
“Particularly the droughts because they go on and on and it breaks farmers hearts to watch the trees dry, the land dry, the stock die.
“They’re in debt and that’s very depressing, and of course then the entire communities feel the pain. It’s a climate emergency, it is a health emergency.”
To prevent these health risks increasing, the AMA is calling on the federal government to develop a national strategy for health and climate change.
Dr Moy said the backlash to the AMA’s announcement from some climate change deniers had been intense, but that at the end of the day the association needed to act in the interests of the public.
“Quite often people are saying ‘why are getting into his area – you’re just politicising it’,” he said.
“We’re basing it on science and the health effects. We’re trying to stay in our area.
“The science says it will have serious health effects. We’re just asking the government and other organisations to put their minds to fixing it.”