Climate and Health News April 2020
Welcome to the April Climate and Health News.
We hope all our supporters are safe and faring ok in this time of crisis.
This edition explores some of the connections between COVID-19, climate change and planetary health, and includes our usual climate and health related news, (online) events and information.
A note on COVID-19
Over the last weeks and months, our world has changed dramatically. We're in the midst of a global pandemic, which requires strong, collective action to protect people's health by slowing the spread of COVID-19 to prevent our health system from being overwhelmed.
There are encouraging initial indicators that here in Australia, our response measures are having a positive effect. But experts warn there is still a long way to go. Our health system is preparing for the worst, with many health professionals working tirelessly on the frontline.
Responding to COVID-19 has required shutting down large parts of the economy, with the potential for hundreds of thousands of people to lose their jobs and many small businesses and organisations facing uncertain futures. While the government has announced significant support packages for certain people, businesses and industries, civil society and unions are hard at work to ensure no-one is left behind. CAHA is part of conversations with other organisations like Climate Action Network Australia and Centre for Policy Development on how we can shape the policy agenda going forward - to ensure a healthier, safer, fairer, more sustainable future for all.
While it feels difficult to talk about other issues during this uncertain time, it is important that we continue our fight for urgent action on climate change.
COVID-19, environment and climate change
Many people may be wondering how to address the climate crisis at the moment, without adding anxiety or removing focus. This interview with Courtney Howard, an emergency physician from Canada discusses just that:
"if we come in with a climate crisis narrative at this moment, people just won’t have the energy to cope with it. And we always need to be respectful of where people are at. But the coronavirus has underlined that we’re all in this together, and that a lack of attention to the interface between humans and the natural world puts us at immense risk..."
Coronavirus is a wake-up call: our war with the environment is leading to pandemics
CAHA Executive Director, Fiona Armstrong, has written for the Conversation with Professor Tony Capon Director, Monash Sustainable Development Institute and Dr Ro McFarlane from University of Canberra this week on how the COVID-19 crisis and the climate and biodiversity crises are deeply connected.
They write: "the health, social and economic consequences of COVID-19 should act as a wake-up call for all governments to take stock, carefully consider the evidence, and ensure post COVID-19 responses reverse our war on nature. Because – as pioneering 20th century conservationist Rachel Carson argued – a war on nature is ultimately a war against ourselves."
How are climate change and COVID-19 linked?
Josh Karliner from Health Care Without Harm writes in Medium about the ways in which climate change and coronavirus are linked, and how coronavirus is highlighting the areas of society and our health care system which will be most strongly impacted by the climate crisis. This is a long read, covering many important points including air pollution, migratory viruses, climate refugees and health inequity. Read the full piece here.
Carbon emissions in the time of a pandemic
Much as been reported on temporary decreases in carbon emissions across the globe, from decreased manufacturing to an almost complete halt of the airline industry. "The numbers offer a sobering reminder of how deeply the modern economy still depends on fossil fuels" writes the New York Times. While this may be positive, it is important to consider the livelihoods impacted by industries shutting down, and the need to support people through the transition to clean energy. Similarly, it is unlikely these impacts will lead to the long-term behaviour change required to fight climate change.
What can the coronavirus pandemic teach us about tackling climate change?
The response to the coronavirus pandemic has been swift, and has had many economic impacts. But what can be learned from the current pandemic to help us fight climate change? A/Prof Natasha Chassagne from the University of Tasmania outlines some key points. Read more here.
Similarly, this article in Yale Environment 360 argues that we must focus on preventing problems rather than fixing them, with the response to COVID-19 showing "that if you wait until you can see the impact, it is too late to stop it.". Read more here.
Every child's future is under threat from climate change
No one country is doing enough to protect children's health and well-being in the face of climate change, a new report from WHO, UNICEF and The Lancet says. Progress on the health of children and adolescents has improved in recent decades, but is now stalling and not enough is being done to ensure they have a safe future in a world of environmental uncertainty. As Australia is one of the top ten emitters of carbon worldwide, "Australia is squandering its opportunities to secure a safe and healthy future for our children" says Dr Liz Hanna from ANU. Read more here.
And head to our Research and Reports section below to read more.
Unprecedented smoke-related health burden from the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires
Researchers from University of Tasmania and Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research have revealed poor air quality associated with smoke from Australia's recent bushfires contributed to more than 400 deaths, and more than 4000 hospital presentations for cardiovascular conditions, asthma and other respiratory conditions. The authors estimate more than 80% of Australia's population was impacted by the bushfires. Read the full report here, and more about the research here.
Healthy Futures: ask HESTA to divest
Around 400 doctors led by CAHA member Healthy Futures have called on super fund HESTA to divest from fossil fuel investments. HESTA's members largely work within the health sector, however, HESTA continues to invest in large fossil fuel companies. HESTA has previously divested from the tobacco industry thanks to community lobbying, setting a precedent for divestment from industries that cause harm to health. HESTA has so far declined to comment on protests and ignored a request to meet with Healthy Futures. Read more here.
Health impacts of extreme heat & heatwaves
Extreme heat and premature births
Extreme heat impacts many populations in society. For pregnant women, exposure to extreme temperatures can lead to an increase in premature deaths and low birth rate. In some parts of Africa, the impacts are potentially more extreme due to the high percentage of women who participate in subsistence farming. A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is aiming to understand how this combination of extreme heat exposure and manual labour can impact pregnant women and infants. Read more here.
Heatwaves mean more deaths from injury
A US study has shown an increase in average temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius would lead to 1,600 more deaths annually across the US. This includes deaths from drowning, falls, transport accidents and intentional deaths from assault and suicide. Given Australia is on course for an even greater increase in average temperatures, we could see even more deaths. Read more here.
Older people face the highest health risks from heatwaves
Humans keep cool in extreme heat by perspiring; when sweat evaporates, it cools us down. However, for elderly people this important mechanism is impeded. Older adults cannot produce sweat in the same way as younger adults, and don't have the same ability to cool down. Extreme heat can exacerbate existing conditions such as heart and kidney disease, and lead to delirium and confusion for some older adults. Read more here.
Climate change - on the frontline in Australia
In case you've missed it, The Guardian Australia has presented a series focusing on the impacts that the climate emergency is having across Australia. From crop growth and food security, to hazardous air pollution and killer heatwaves, the series interviews people from across Australia being impacted by the climate crisis right now. Take a look at the full series here.
Locust swarms and climate change
Many African nations have been suffering from outbreaks of desert locusts in 2020, the worst seen in years. These swarms of locusts have been caused by higher temperatures and above average rainfall linked to climate change. The large swarms of locusts pose a considerable threat to food security in vulnerable African nations. Read more here.
Plant-based diets fight more than just climate change
It is likely not news to CAHA readers that plant-based diets are a great way for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. Plant-based protein sources such as beans have a carbon cost of 20 times less per gram than beef, and sustainable land practices and rotating crops help to keep carbon in the ground as well as restore ecosystems. But plant-based diets are beneficial for more than just the environment, they can help to tackle a variety of chronic diseases and even improve mental health. Read more here.
Access to reproductive health vital to fighting climate change
Globally, millions of women lack access to effective contraception due to policies, stigma and cost. Many women have unintended pregnancies and are left without access to essential maternal and newborn healthcare. A new report by Project Drawdown has identified that providing girls with access to education and empowering them with a choice about when they want to start a family decreases fertility rates. This leads to improved health outcomes, as well as reduced per capita carbon emissions. Back in 2009 The Lancet discussed the need to improve global access to family planning. It is clear that much more progress is required. Read more here.
Right now the world is responding to the public health emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet just months ago, millions of Australians were subjected to unprecedented climate-fueled bushfires and dangerous levels of air pollution from bushfire smoke, resulting in hundreds of people dying.
While we are appropriately focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, when the crisis eases we must be ready to continue the momentum for strong, collective action to protect our health from the climate emergency.
We're calling on our elected representatives to act on climate to protect our health. Please join us by signing the petition.
Click here to read more about this new campaign.
If your organisation would like to learn more about what making a climate health emergency declaration means, please get in touch with our team here.
This year, Australian Environment Ministers will decide on new air pollution standards for three dangerous pollutants connected to the burning of fossil fuels: nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone. These pollutants have harmful effects on people’s health - even at levels well below Australia’s current standards.
We need strong, health-based air pollution standards to reduce the harm to health, and accelerate the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean, safer energy sources.
7 April, 12:30-1:30pm AEST - Online
This seminar presented by The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand will cover two main topics: air pollution mapping of the public health and clinical impacts of smoke from bushfires, and the impact of the fires on NSW mining regions and the response of the mining industry.
27-28 April - Online
The Association for Sustainability in Business hosts the National Sustainability Conference for professionals passionate about sustainability. The conference is a space to share research, projects and industry developments in all facets, from energy and economy through to environment. CAHA's Project Consultant, Sue Cooke, will be presenting on day one of the conference on Health as a Pathway to Climate Action: Climate Resilient Healthcare. Register here.
13-15 May - Going online
The Public Health Association of Australia's 2020 conference theme is 'Can do prevention: effective action in a volatile world' will now be online. The conference will include presentations on effective preventive health campaigns and policies, and embedding climate resilience in health. Register here.
8-9 October 2020 - Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, Glebe, NSW
The Centre for Air pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR) are hosting a two-day symposium to discuss evidence and policy around the effects of smoke from bushfires and planned burns. This event will bring together stakeholders, scientists, managers and policy makers to discuss the complexities, science, values and trade-offs in risk management, and the ways forward for land, fire and smoke management in Australia. Day 1 will involve a research workshop. An interactive policy forum will be held on day 2.
CAR are now accepting abstracts for the day 1 program, learn more here.
The Health Effects of Climate Change
Harvard University via edX
This online course taught by Aaron Bernsteinis available to start anytime, and its free!
In Case You Missed It...
Expert panel discussion on the "Health Emergency of Climate Change"
On Thursday, 13 February, the Climate and Health Alliance partnered with the Sustainable Living Foundation to present an expert panel discussion on 'The Health Emergency of Climate Change'. Speakers included: Victorian Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton, Dr Liz Hanna, Dr Lou Irving, Dr Simon Judkins, Dr Charles Le Feuvre and Fiona Armstrong.
Discussions included the overall health impacts of climate change, including mental health impacts; the specific impacts of heatwaves and air pollution; and the role of health professionals in leading on climate action.
Influenza and viral pandemics including COVID-19 - current challenges
This webinar presented by The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, this seminar provides an overview of Influenza and COVID19 epidemiology, transmission and severity with an Australasian focus. IT features discussion on several areas relating to the current pandemic, as well as how knowledge gained from studying influenza can help address other pandemic viral respiratory illness such as novel coronavirus. Watch it here.
Research and Reports
Climate adaptation for the health and wellbeing sector in Queensland
A new article published in Environmental Science and Policy by Fahim Tonmoy, Sue Cooke, Fiona Armstrong and David Rissik describes the development of the Qld Human Health and Wellbeing Climate Adaptation Plan (H-CAP), part of the Queensland Climate Adaptation Strategy. CAHA played a lead role in the development of the H-CAP which provides direction for climate change adaptation planning and implementation within the health and wellbeing sectors. Read the full paper here.
The gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
A letter published in The Lancet by researchers in the Gender and COVID-19 Working Group highlights the importance in acknowledging the differing impacts of the current global pandemic on gender. Women are frequently disproportionately impacted by these types of events, as women are frequently care givers and a large proportion of healthcare workers are women, putting them at higher risk of infection. This article highlights the importance of incorporating sex and gender effects into our understanding of global events, and acts as a reminder of the gendered impacts of climate change. Read the full letter here.
A future for the world’s children? A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission
This joint report by WHO, UNICEF and The Lancet finds all children globally are at risk of the impacts of climate change, ecological degradation and migration. The report discusses inherent inequalities in our global system, where children from wealthier countries have better health outcomes, but high per capita emissions which threatens the health of all children worldwide - and disproportionately impacts those in lower income countries.
This report argues that children's health and well-being must be put at the centre of decision making and in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The report calls on all sectors, not just health and education, to put children first in improving living conditions through reducing environmental pollution, increasing active transport opportunities and introducing clean energy.
"The effort required is enormous, but if we cannot deliver for our children, what is the measure of our civilisation?" Read the full report here.
Our Future on Earth, 2020
A new report by Future Earth aims to understand and define the current state of the planet across various sectors including politics, biodiversity, the media and food and the challenges faced by humanity in each of these.
This beautifully presented report covers all areas of the climate crisis and the state of the planet in 2020, from the health impacts of climate change, to grassroots movements, financial impacts, displaced peoples, single-use plastics and the spread of disinformation.
Climate change and health inequity in New Zealand
Climate change is already impacting the health of people all over the world. This paper explores the impacts of climate change on health in New Zealand and how it will exacerbate existing health inequities. The author argues a country specific understanding of the impact on climate change and health will allow initiatives to be develop that address local health inequities and protect vulnerable groups. Read more here.
WHO: Free Online Courses on COVID-19
Learn more about COVID-19 from a clinical perspective in these self-paced, free courses from WHO. They are aimed at healthcare professionals but are open to anyone who's interested. Click here to learn more and download any of the videos and materials.
Nursing in a Changing Climate: Sigma Online Webinar
This one hour webinar covers a number of important areas with an aim of equipping nurses with the tools they need to discuss the links between climate change and health, and the solutions to address these, as well as providing ways that nurses can engage in advocacy and action in the fight against climate change. To view the webinar and the associated resources, click here.
This newsletter is brought to you by the team here at the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA).
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Please contact us at Climate and Health Alliance if you have any upcoming events or information to include in our next newsletter.