Climate and Health News May 2020

Welcome to the May Climate and Health News. 

This edition, we are further exploring the connections between COVID-19, climate change and planetary health.

Make sure you follow us at the Climate and Health Alliance on Facebook and Twitter to stay in the loop. 

Not yet a member or monthly donor? Find out about becoming a CAHA member here or donate to support our work here!

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COVID-19 and Climate Change

Through collective, science-based action, Australia has averted the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means many of us can begin considering how we want to move forward beyond the pandemic. Below we present recent discussions of climate change and COVID-19 in the media, and the focus on ensuring governments invest in green economic stimulus packages that promote a sustainable, healthy future for all of us.

CAHA on COVID-19 and Climate Change

CAHA's Executive Director Fiona Armstrong recently spoke about the connections between COVID-19 and the climate and environmental crises with ABC TV Weekend Breakfast. Fiona discussed how our war on nature has seen the rise of zoonotic diseases (ones that have made the jump from animals to humans) like COVID-19 because humans are increasingly encroaching on and destroying animal habitats, and how protecting our health will require protecting nature. “If we are destroying the natural environment, we’re destroying the foundations for human health and well-being.”

Click here to read more and watch the full interview.

Fiona also had a chat with 1 Million Women where she discussed not only the links between COVID-19 and climate change, but what needs to happen in Australia to recover from the crisis and create a more sustainable future. Fiona highlights the actions that we can take as individuals to try and create systemic change, MPs are "not going to respond if they're not hearing from their constituents about the things they're concerned about.". Read the full interview here.

Creating a more sustainable world post-COVID-19

Many people are viewing the pandemic as a pivotal moment in our history - an opportunity to re-evaluate how our society functions and use this to build a more sustainable future for everyone. It's possible that in doing so, we will be able to rebuild the economy to a stronger place than it was before by focusing on strong commitments on climate. 

A recent study has shown that countries that continue with their current emissions commitments that fall well below those required to meet the goals of the Paris agreement will face considerable economic losses. The current crisis has meant governments are now facing long periods of debt, but it has been suggested that investing in green energy and sustainable technologies using a climate-friendly stimulus package could be the way forward.

Read Oxfam's full article Beyond COVID-19: Could we create a more sustainable world?

Inge Anderson, head of the UN Environment Program agrees with the sentiment that long-term, systemic shifts are required in the form of green economic stimulus packages. The coronavirus pandemic has been followed by reductions in air pollution, but Ms Anderson warns that this must not be labelled a positive as it comes "on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress". Ms Anderson also highlights how important it is that we understand the origins of the virus and reduce our impact on wildlife and the environment. Read more here.

We have all been impacted in some way by the current crisis, some have lost jobs, some have lost loved ones, and many of our readers will have been working on the frontline. For those of us who have the capacity to consider what possibilities out future holds, we must work hard to ensure that it is a sustainable future for everyone.

Deforestation is a public health crisis

Destroying habitats through deforestation puts both people and wildlife at risk. It brings us in closer contact with wildlife, increasing the risk of transmission of diseases - as we have seen in the current crisis - as well as destroying the homes of wild species and in some cases, contributing to their extinction. Humans have already had an impact on 75% of the Earth's land, and experts warn that if further destruction continues, there are more than 1.7 million unknown viruses that have the potential to infect humans. Read more here.

A new way to call for action

With physical distancing practices in place, climate campaigners have had to swiftly adapt, moving off the streets to online. Many are jumping onto social media to garner support for urgent climate action, while others are sharing their stories and teaching others in online tutorials. Learn more about what they're doing here.



More than 3 billion people will live in extreme heat by 2070

A recent study has revealed that by 2070, depending on population growth and modelling of warming, between 1 and 3 billion people could be living in climatic conditions which are outside what people are currently known to survive in. This raises many other issues, from food security, given that agriculture and livestock rely on the same conditions as people, to conflict due to increased migration. As well as this, the most impacted regions are among the poorest in the world, where adaptive capacity to these changes is low. The Guardian spoke with the study's authors: "there are limits to adaptation. If you have enough money and energy, you can use air conditioning and fly in food and then you might be OK. But that is not the case for most people.". Read the full study here.

Royal Commission into Australia's 2019-2020 bushfire season begins

Public hearings in the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements began this week. The inquiry has heard that Australia's latest bushfire season was in line with predictions from Australia's peak scientific body, laid down 30 years ago, and that events like this will occur with even greater frequency. In our last newsletter we reported on research that revealed the extent of the smoke-related health burden from this bushfire season. Now one of the study's authors, Associate Professor Fay Johnston, has presented to the inquiry, discussing the profound impacts that smoke inhalation has on people's health. Alongside this, experts revealed that the recovery from bushfires can take many years due to the long-lasting impacts on mental health. Read more here.

Support Croakey to continue their coverage of climate and health

Croakey Health Media provides independent, in-depth coverage of health issues, including their excellent coverage of all things climate change and health. Croakey is asking for your support so they can provide regular, in-depth coverage of the health impacts of climate change, taking a local, national and global approach. Money raised will go to a dedicated fund to pay writers and editors to put a sustained focus on the health impacts of climate change.

Already, their regular donors have enabled Croakey to publish Carbon footprints, pathology, hospital food, air pollution and other news in sustainable healthcare and Dear Australia, elegy for a summer of loss. If you would like to become a regular donor and support independent, health-focused journalism, please support Croakey through their Patreon account.

Doctors for the Environment Australia - Prescription for healthy solutions

Climate change requires changes at a systemic level, however, there are always small changes we can make in our personal lives which make a difference and reduce our carbon footprint. Doctors for the Environment Australia speak about actions they are taking during the current COVID-19 crisis that are also good for climate and health. Take a look at their videos here and here.

Yarra Valley smoke haze

After the recent bushfire season, awareness of the negative impacts of smoke pollution has increased. In parts of Australia, burnoffs are performed in Autumn to reduce potential fire hazards during spring and summer, however, these burnoffs create more smoke pollution. Doctors in the Yarra Valley in Victoria are now pushing for the Victorian government to install air quality monitors to help guide local residents, particularly those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of poor air pollution. Read more here.

Nepal's climate migrants struggle to survive

The climate crisis is changing the landscape of Nepal's Himalayan region, with land for grazing and growing food becoming scarce, and the water supply dwindling. In parts of the highlands, mosquitos have begun to appear, bringing with them an increased risk of dengue and malaria. The changing climate is pushing the local populations to leave in order to survive. Researchers have estimated that the global number of climate migrants could reach a billion by the end of the century, with South Asia being one of the hardest hit regions. Read more here.

Leadership for the social climate

Dr Gary Belkin discusses in the New England Journal of Medicine the need for health systems to take a leading role in the push to act against climate change. Health systems are "trusted organisations that are involved in their communities" and can support "community-level emotional resilience and mental health". Read more here.

Coal-fired power 

Australia's coal-fired power plants have increased their emissions of hazardous PM2.5 in recent years. Particles of this size have frequently been associated with poor health outcomes across people's lifespan, with one study linking PM2.5 to 4.1 million deaths worldwide in 2019. One coal-fired power station in NSW has shown an increase in PM2.5 emissions of 3,000 percent in the past 6 years, while another in Victoria showed an increase of 82% in 2019. Read more here.

Listen: A new climate change podcast from ABC Radio National

We've known about climate change for decades - for some perspective An Inconvenient Truth brought the concept of global warming into the general consciousness all the way back in 2006 - yet, very little action has been taken in that time. This new podcast Hot Mess from ABC Radio National looks at why it's been so hard to take action on climate change over the decades, and what we can be doing now. Listen here.


Health professionals call for stronger environmental protection laws

On Monday 25 May, we joined Doctors for the Environment Australia to release an open letter to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley calling on the government to strengthen Australia's environmental protection laws and acknowledge the importance of a healthy environment on human health. The open letter was signed by more than 180 medical professionals and leading health organisations, including Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty and former Australian of the Year Professor Fiona Stanley. The letter notes that the recent Australian bushfire season and the current COVID-19 pandemic highlight the interconnectedness between the environment and health, and the devastating consequences when this is ignored. The letter calls for the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to include more robust environmental protection laws to repair past damage, secure our future health and prevent further failures in protecting Australia’s environment by promoting ecologically sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. 

Read the full letter here, and learn more in The Guardian.

Over 40 million health professionals call on G20 leaders for a #HealthyRecovery

Over 40 million medical professionals, including doctors, nurses and public health workers, have signed an open letter calling for a #HealthyRecovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that uses a pragmatic, scientific approach and does not allow for climate change to continue unabated. The letter calls for Chief Medical Officers and Chief Scientific Advisors to be directly involved in the design of economic stimulus packages. It also urges leaders to learn from past mistakes, and use this as an opportunity for smarter incentives and disincentives to create a more sustainable, healthy and resilient society. Fiona Armstrong, CAHA's executive director emphasised the importance of this approach: "The Federal government listened to health experts and trusted the science in its response to the COVID-19 health crisis, they must do the same for the climate crisis. Our health depends on it".

Read the full letter here and the full write-up in The Guardian here. And learn more in this short video.

Are you a healthcare worker living or working in the LaTrobe Valley? Healthy Futures needs your help!

Healthy Futures are working with communities living on the frontline of fossil fuel infrastructure in Australia, take a look at the work they're doing here.

If you are a healthcare worker living or working in the LaTrobe Valley, they want to hear from you regarding attitudes towards environmental determinants of health. Click here to fill out the survey and share it with other healthcare workers you know in the area. 

Climate change is a health emergency

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. 

As the crisis is easing, we must 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.

Clearing the air - sign & spread the word!

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.

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?


Future-proofing health care through climate action

June 5 2020, 1-2:30pm (AEST) - Online

Join Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Southeast Asia together with the Centre for Environment and Population Health (CEPH), Griffith University Australia, and the International Network of Health Promoting Hospitals (HPH) for a virtual gathering to discuss the links between climate change, COVID-19 and health, climate action in hospitals, and for an opportunity to strengthen collaboration and partnerships.

Register here.

Landscape fire smoke: Protecting health in an era of escalating fire risk

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.

Register here.

CAR are now accepting abstracts for the program, learn more here.

CODA 2021

April 19-23 2021 - Melbourne

CODA 2020 has been postponed until April 19 - 23, 2021. This event focuses on interactive sessions to empower attendees to take action to tackle climate change and make healthcare more sustainable.

The program covers a wide variety of issues and specialities to ensure the event is relevant to people from all areas of healthcare: clinical medicine, learning, teaching, communicating, teamwork, crisis management, wellbeing, equity within medicine, dissemination of medical information, health economics and much more.

More info here

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.

Take a look at this great video of the night, listen to the full talk here (the audio improves a few minutes in!), or read the publicly available presentations here.

Connetica online seminar series - COVID-19 and mental health

Connetica has released a series of online seminars covering various aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health around the world. Each seminar discusses a different country or area of the globe and the unique impacts that the pandemic has had there. 

View all previous recordings here.

Research and Reports

Substantial under-reporting of heat-related mortality in Australia

Research from the Australian National University recently revealed that there has been considerable underestimation of the number of deaths in Australia attributed to excessive natural heat. The study's author and colleagues have now written in The Lancet discussing the negative impacts that this under-reporting has. Without knowing the degree to which environmental factors affect health, the full impact of climate change cannot be fully appreciated. One of the study's authors, Arnagretta Hunter, has written in The Guardian urging health agencies to accurately name environmental factors on death certificates and hospital data, stating "Through naming and describing the threat we go part way to confronting it...Part of addressing the challenge [of climate change] comes from recognising the magnitude of the risk to our health"

Medical Journal of Australia - Sustainable healthcare issue

May's issue of MJA focuses on a sustainable future in health. The issue touches on a number of important topics including the impacts of bushfire smoke and improving sustainability of the healthcare sector. Victoria's Chief Medical Officer, Brett Sutton, who recently presented at CAHA's expert panel on the Health Emergency of Climate Change, along with colleagues from the Department of Health, also outline the action that is being taken on climate and health in Victoria. 

Beyond Zero Emissions: The Million Jobs Plan

Our friends at Beyond Zero Emissions has released a report detailing how Australia can thrive by transitioning to a zero carbon economy. BZE outlines the need to fast-track renewable energy, improve recycling, retrofit homes and move to electrified transport. Through these initiatives, BZE states that Australia can build a strong economy, benefit the community and create new jobs. The plan has the backing of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, stating "we have the opportunity to have zero emissions and cheap energy in Australia if we get over the political roadblock". Read the plan here.

Future Earth research opportunity

Future Earth Australia (FEA) is a national initiative at the Australian Academy of Science that facilitates collaboration to advance environmental, social and economic sustainability. FEA has launched a new community science for sustainability initiative, which facilitates communities and scientists to co-produce actionable science which addresses a local or regional sustainability priority.

Future Earth Australia is accepting applications from community leaders in Australia to join the 2020 cohort.  

Communities selected for this cohort will work collaboratively with FEA and selected scientists to design, develop and execute their project over a 6-12 month period. 

To find out more, click here.


The Health Effects of Climate Change

Harvard University via edX

This online course run by Harvard University online covers everything you need to know about climate change and health. From nutrition, migration, infectious diseases and air quality, and it's free!

Sign up here.


This newsletter is brought to you by the team here 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 information to include in our next newsletter.

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