Welcome to the January Climate and Health News. The bushfires have meant it's been a tough start to the year for many people in Australia. We are deeply saddened at the tragic loss of life and the devastation of communities across our beautiful country.
This edition of our newsletter will focus mainly on the current climate crisis in Australia. As well as this, we highlight upcoming events and important resources in climate and health.
Air pollution from bushfires is a public health emergency
In December, CAHA, with 27 other health and medical groups including Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine, Public Health Association of Australia, and Doctors for the Environment Australia released a Joint Statement calling on the Federal and NSW governments to respond to the public health emergency associated with persistent air pollution from bushfire smoke. The statement made it clear: there is no safe level of air pollution. The statement noted that bushfire smoke is particularly hazardous because of the high levels of tiny particles (PM2.5).
Many national and international media outlets reported on the statement, including The New York Times, Channel 10 News, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, and Sunrise.
Response to bushfires must include real climate action
Air quality has reached hazardous levels in Canberra and Melbourne with both cities recording the worst air quality in the world in January. CAHA released a statement in early January in response to the bushfire crisis, calling on Federal and state governments to work together to act on climate change to protect people’s health.
CAHA Executive Director Fiona Armstrong said: "We are saddened but we are also angry. These unprecedented bushfires and heatwaves have been predicted, and governments warned about them, for decades.
"The health sector is not fooled, nor are we consoled, by the federal government's untrue assertions that they are adequately acting on climate change."
Read the full statement here.
With hazardous air quality persisting over weeks and months, CAHA has now called for a whole of government response to the health risks posed by smoke air pollution, including the possibility of text alerts and the supply of free P2/N95 face masks to all affected communities.
The Federal government's response to the bushfire and air pollution crisis
The Australian Government deployed Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) specialists for the first time in a domestic setting in early January to provide medical support to people evacuated from bushfire-affected communities in Victoria.
Since then, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed the government will commission new research into the health impacts of long-term exposure to bushfire smoke. The government has also provided 3.5 million P2 masks to affected states and territories.
However Labor Health spokesperson Chris Bowen has said the response from the Federal government has been poorly managed, and Canberra Times reports the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also pointed to a lack of coordinated health responses in impacted areas, and lack of education about the risk from smoke putting people at risk.
"We urgently need to see a public awareness campaign on the ongoing health impacts of the smoke currently engulfing so many cities and towns in Australia. This is a public health emergency and needs to be treated as one." Mr Bowen said. Labor has called for the smoke pollution to be treated as a public health emergency, while reiterating their support for a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being. Read more here.
AMA President Tony Bartone said: “The length and density of smoke exposure is a new and possibly fatal health risk that many people within our community have not previously had to face."
International journals highlight lack fo climate action fuelling bushfires
Two leading international journals, The Lancet and Nature have recently published editorials critical of Australia's political leaders and pointing to the bushfires as emblematic of a planetary health crisis.
'Australia: show the world what climate action looks like', was the headline in Nature, whose editorial said: "The fires are a wake-up call. The country’s leaders must now act on overwhelming evidence and public opinion."
The Lancet editorial 'Australia on fire' said: "Government politicisation and denial of climate science has hindered the disaster response and added to the frustration and anger."
We hope these eminent voices will be heeded and the political discourse does move beyond talking about resilience and adaptation, which as Lancet points out have "very clear limitations", and avoid the underlying issue of the "fossil fuel industry’s stronghold".
Smoke pollution impacts cities and towns across Australia
Australia is fortunate not to have had much previous experience with enduring air pollution at hazardous levels. However, this leaves us more vulnerable as many people are unaware of the dangerous health effects of poor air quality. Medical professionals and organisations are speaking out to raise public awareness (see here and here). The Public Health Association Australia has called for a national public health campaign to make Australians "air-quality smart" and better policies from all levels of government are required.
There is a lot of information around bushfire smoke, and we've included a few helpful articles here. Also, see below under Resources for some informative factsheets on this issue.
- Did you know bushfire smoke is also bad for your eyes? Here's how to protect them.
- What exactly are we inhaling?
- Explainer: How bad is bushfire smoke for your health?
Asthma Australia is conducting a survey on the impacts of bushfire smoke which they hope will capture data that may otherwise not be available, such as loss of productivity and increased medication use due to bushfire smoke exposure. Access the survey here.
Air pollution and the health of athletes
Tennis Australia's judgment has recently been called into question after allowing play to continue despite hazardous air quality levels. Several players struggled with one collapsing on court. The Australian Open has been hit by severe heatwaves in previous years and has had to employ stringent heat policies. In order to protect the safety of players (and spectators), it is likely that the future of the tournament will look quite different. Read more here.
Healthcare professionals on the frontlines of the bushfire crisis
Melissa Sweet from Croakey has spoken with seven health professionals who have been on the frontlines of the Australian bushfires, including CAHA President Amanda Adrian, who is a Rural Fire Services coordinator in NSW. A common theme across their accounts is frustration at the lack of government action on climate change, with many assuming the severe drought and now the bushfires would be enough to prompt urgent action. There are also concerns about the lack of coverage in mainstream media about the impact of these crises on Aboriginal communities. Read the full article here.
Impacts of Australia's changing climate on Indigenous health
Researchers writing for The Conversation discuss the unique kind of grief experienced by Australia's Indigenous populations during bushfire seasons. Aboriginal culture and livelihood is tied strongly to the land, and the devastation caused by the fires deeply impacts Aboriginal people. The article calls for bushfire recovery to be respectful and culturally sensitive. Read more here.
Dr Senior, a GP specialising in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, notes the considerable impacts that the bushfires have on Indigenous communities. He discusses the respiratory and mental health impacts being felt through the local community at present and also notes poor housing conditions can exacerbate exposure to poor air quality and extreme heat. Dr Senior calls for a long-term climate and health strategy to address these impacts. Read more here. And click here to hear more about the links between housing and health, the impacts of which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
Dealing with ecological grief and the mental health impacts of the bushfire crisis
Research by the University of Melbourne showed the Black Saturday Bushfires led to long-term mental health impacts for survivors of the disaster. Sadly, it is likely that the current bushfire disaster will result in a similar outcome for the many impacted communities. The Federal government has recognised the mental health impacts of bushfire exposure in announcing funding for a Bushfire Recovery Access Program. This program will provide ongoing distress counselling and mental health support, and access to small grants for communities to promote mental health healing and recovery.
Constant exposure to media covering the disaster can also lead to distress, anxiety and fear of environmental and climate change-related events. This is informally known as eco-anxiety. Psychology for a Safe Climate has put together a comprehensive resource to guide psychological care for those directly and indirectly impacted. This article from The Conversation covers some ways of dealing with eco-anxiety, while this article in the New York Times discusses how you can find your own way of tackling climate change.
College of Intensive Care Medicine declares a Climate Health Emergency
The College of Intensive Care Medicine Australia and New Zealand has released a statement saying the health impact of climate change constitutes a public health emergency. The College acknowledges the need for urgent action to mitigate climate change, and notes the increase in intensive care treatment required for those impacted by the recent bushfires. Read the full statement here.
Spreading the word on climate and health
ABC has put together a great resource, available on their Instagram, detailing the health impacts of heatwaves and of bushfire smoke. Use these to spread the word that climate change is a health issue, and to help educate your friends and family.
Email Your MP and ask for action on Climate and Health!
The unprecedented bushfires and heatwaves we are experiencing have been predicted, and governments have been warned about them, for decades, yet governments have refused to take action. CAHA is holding our government to account and is keeping up the pressure for urgent climate action.
As communities across Australia continue to reel from ongoing catastrophic bushfires and deadly heatwaves, governments must work together to act on climate change to protect people’s health.
If you haven't already, please consider writing to your local Federal MP calling on them to act to protect our climate and our health. Our form here has a template email you can edit and send to your local representative by simply entering in your postcode:
While communities across the country suffer hazardous levels of air pollution from bushfire smoke, our air is being further polluted through the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation.
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 risk and harm to people’s health these pollutants cause, and to accelerate the transition away from dirty fossil fuels to clean, safer technologies.
Right now we have a chance to secure stronger air pollution standards. Will you sign the petition asking all Australian Environment Ministers to cut air pollution and protect our climate and our health by supporting stronger standards?
2-6 February 2020, Parliament House Lawns, Canberra
Join the People's Climate Assembly when Federal Parliament begins sitting in February "to show a united front against the ignorance shown by our government in the face of this climate emergency, and to demand that they step up and do something". The Assembly have events across the first week of Parliament, join them in calling on the government to declare a climate emergency, act in accordance with scientific findings, and implement a just transition to a renewable and sustainable future.
2 February 2020, Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences Building, Adelaide
Join Doctors for Nutrition at this one-day Symposium in Adelaide where they will discuss using nutrition to improve cardiovascular health, and the many benefits of a plant-based diet.
3-part Webinar Series on Climate and Health by Sigma Nursing and Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments
4 February, 18 February and 3 March 2020, Webinars
Don't miss out on the upcoming three part webinar series presented in partnership with Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) and Sigma Nursing. Each webinar will dive deep into topics surrounding climate change and its effect on health.
CAHA Executive Director Fiona Armstrong will be presenting at the first webinar on 4 February.
See all the webinars and register here.
14-15 February 2020, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne
This two day summit will present workshops, discussions and debates on key priority areas covering the political, economic and social changes required to tackle the climate emergency.
CAHA will host a Health Emergency of Climate Change Forum as part of the Summit.
When: Thu Feb 13, 6:00pm
Where: Supper Room, Melbourne Town Hall, 90-130 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
RSVP here now to reserved your spot!
20 February - 6 March 2020, Various locations, Melbourne and Newtown, Sydney
The Transitions Film Festival returns to Melbourne this February with another enthralling line-up of cutting-edge documentaries about the existential challenges, mega-trends, game-changing technologies and creative visions that will shape our collective future. The festival focuses on sharing inspirational stories about the solutions to society's greatest challenges and showcases the local heroes and change-makers who are building a better world. The festival covers a range of themes including climate change, resilience, and health and wellness, and features a line-up of powerful films and inspirational guest speakers.
Full program at: www.transitionsfilmfestival.com
17-18 March 2020, Arts House, North Melbourne
Refuge is a series of compelling events where art meets emergency, preparing the community for climate crisis. This years' Refuge Lab will focus on honouring First Nations knowledges and listening to the voices of those most impacted and vulnerable. Arts House’s Refuge project allows people from diverse disciplines to examine the cultural, social, philosophical and community-based dimensions of emergency preparedness and resilience. See more here.
28 September - 2 October 2020, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne
CODA is a global health community united in action to solve urgent threats to global health. CODA boasts many inspiring speakers, a variety of program formats and a captivating and thought-provoking program. A large focus of the program will be on how the global health community can unite to take action against climate change in an engaging and collaborative way.
The World Medical and Health Policy journal is asking for submissions of original research, commentaries and book reviews for an upcoming edition focusing on climate change and health. The journal is aiming to contribute to understanding of climate change and health in order to improve global policies. Submit your abstract by February 17, for more details click here.
LOREAL-UNESCO for women in Science 2020 Climate Edition
This year, the For Women in Science Australia and New Zealand program will be supporting solely women researchers tackling issues around climate change.
Applicants are asked to specify how their research would contribute to avoiding future losses, generating positive economic gains through innovation, and delivering social and environmental benefits. See application form and more info here. Applications open Tuesday 28th January and close at 11.59pm Monday 2nd March.
Researchers in New Zealand have published a paper in The Lancet to guide healthcare professionals who may be considering engaging in civil disobedience to persuade governments to act more urgently on climate change. This paper provides a framework to guide decision making, and argues the threat of climate change is so great that the negative consequences of civil disobedience are outweighed by the risks (however, this is country and situation dependent). Read more here.
Researchers from the Monash University Climate, Air Quality Research Unit discuss the many harmful impacts that bushfires and bushfire smoke pollution have on human health. These include increased visits to emergency departments due to respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD, possible increases in cardiovascular morbidity, impacts on mental health and adverse birth outcomes. They also discuss the increased frequency of high to extreme fire risk days caused by climate change. Read more here.
Bushfire smoke and health factsheets
The Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR) and Australian National University (ANU) have released factsheets which detail the health impacts of bushfire smoke.
Bushfire smoke is particularly hazardous as it contains small particles (PM2.5) which can enter the lungs and cause inflammation, and travel into the blood stream, affecting body systems. Both factsheets cover all you need to know, including information on who is most at risk, how bushfire smoke can impact health and the best ways to avoid smoke pollution.
CAHA member Prof Sotiris Vardoulakis from ANU Research School of Population Health has produced a series of resources on how to protect yourself and others from bushfire smoke - see here.
CAHA member group Psychology for a Safe Climate has put together a comprehensive resource to guide psychological care during this difficult time. This collection of "psychological ideas" reminds us to take care of our selves and our mental health through self-compassion and empowerment. The guide also discusses how to handle grief, helping children, helping impacted communities and details on who to contact if you need support. Access the guide here.
Urgent deadline: Apply by this Monday 3rd February for the Yale School of Public Health online certificate on climate change and health. (Please note the website will indicate that the deadline has passed, but we have secured an extension for our readers to apply by this date). This is an 18-week online course tailored for public health professionals and those in related fields. The course gives an overview of climate change and health, human adaptation and communication and behaviour change. Click the image to learn more and apply for the course here.
This new book by Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health, University College London, offers an uncomfortable truth, that disasters are not the consequence of natural causes, but instead are the consequence of human choices and decisions. Prof Kelman explores stories of some of our worst disasters, showing how we can and should act to stop people dying when nature unleashes its energies, and encourages readers not to accept the complacent narrative of human helplessness in the face of the power of inevitable natural occurrences. Find out more here.
Finally, we want to share with you a lovely message that came to us from our friends and colleagues in the US who sent a message of collegiality and support.
Thanks to those who attended the workshop on climate and health at University of California San Francisco (and Linda Rudolph and Kathy Dervin from Public Health Institute and USCAHA) for this message, saying 'Thanks CAHA'!
This newsletter is brought to you by us at the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA).
Did you know individuals, as well as organisations, can join CAHA? If you like what we do and would like to support our work, become a member of the Climate and Health Alliance. You will be joining a dynamic effort to ensure people's health and well-being is central to national and global efforts to respond to the climate crisis.
Please contact us at Climate and Health Alliance if you have any upcoming events, or other information to include in our next newsletter.