Messages from Antarctica: Dr Ying Zhang


CAHA board member A/Prof Ying Zhang has returned from the largest-ever female expedition to Antarctica, as a Homeward Bound Fellow. Here are the messages from the Antarctic.

 

What is Homeward Bound?

Homeward Bound is a global initiative on leadership development for women in STEMM who also share great passion about environmental sustainability. Each year, 100 selected women in STEMM have a year-long leadership program accumulated to a trip to Antarctica at end of the year. In 2019, HB has sent the largest cohort of 112 women to Antarctica between 22 Nov and 10 Dec.  We have visited several scientific stations in Antarctica, including the Great Wall Station built by China in 1985. We had the largest climate strike in Antarctica during the COP25.

HB4 Climate strike in the Antarctic, December 2019

 

Why the Antarctic?

The Antarctic holds 90% of ice, 70% of fresh water and 10% of land on the Earth. It plays a key role in the global climate system. Melting ice goes into ocean currents and bring more extreme weather events due to climate change. The Antarctic also has the largest marine biology conservation area, which is essential for protecting biodiversity and balance of biocycle. 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty. Although measures have been taken in protecting the natural and biological environment in the Antarctic, the impacts of changing climate are evident in this remote and non-human habitat region.

Sunset light on glaciers in Antarctica

 

What I have learnt in Antarctica?

Antarctica is my dream destination as a climate change researcher and educator. What I have learnt and experienced in Antarctic blows my mind. Being in Antarctica, I am deeply touched by what I have seen and the close connections to the mother nature. I have heard the stories that the mother nature is trying to tell us, her leniency and her suffering. Our lives rely on fresh air, clean water, sufficient food, biodiversity, which are all from unreserved offer by the mother nature. However, our human activities, especially the focus on economic development, bring adverse impacts on the Earth. We should all reflect on our own lifestyles and how we could reduce carbon footprint on the planet for a sustainable future.

 

Calling for more research and policy changes to address climate change and health issues

 

Climate change is a health issue. In 2009, Lancet called climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. My work has been focused on climate and health for more than 15 years.  Climate change can cause more deaths and injuries directly due to increased natural disasters. Indirectly, climate change can increase the risks of certain infectious disseises, mental health problems, and non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular illnesses. However, these adverse health consequences from climate change are preventable. In 2015, Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change pointed out that “tackling climate change could be the greatest opportunity for global health in the 21st century”. Climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and strategies can bring environmental, health and economic co-benefits.

In collaboration with Lancet Countdown and the Medical Journal of Australia, I co-chair the MJA-Lancet Countdown report on health and climate change, and our 2019 national report has been released in November 2019. We conclude that “Australia remains at significant risk of declines in health due to climate change” (Beggs et al, 2019). Urgent actions are required from all society to protect people’s health. It not only affects all of us but also what we can save for our future generations.

After the trip, I feel I am stronger and more determined to continue my efforts and commitment to research and teaching on climate change and global health. I am equipped with more leadership tools and inspired by other HB woman fellows to lead the change for the greater good!

If someone is interested in more details about the HB leadership project or on climate change and global health research, please contact Ying directly: ying.zhang@sydneye.edu.au.

Dr Ying Zhang, Associate Professor, Epidemiologist, Academic Lead Student Life, School of Public Health, University of Sydney. Board Member of Climate and Health Alliance Australia.