Pages tagged "climate"

  • An overwhelming case for people to take to the streets for the sake of CLIMATE HEALTH

    Editor: Melissa Sweet Author: Grace FitzGerald (republished from Croakey Health Blog) Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 1.25.42 pm                    


    It's not yet summer, and soaring temperatures and bushfires, in Australia and elsewhere, are focussing attention on the health threats of climate change. Ahead of the United Nations climate conference (COP21) in Paris, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a statement warning that climate change is already causing tens of thousands of deaths every year. These deaths are due to shifting patterns of disease from extreme weather events “ such as heat-waves and floods “ and from the degradation of air quality, food and water supplies, and sanitation, it says Thousands of People's Climate marches are planned around the world for November 28 and 29. While the French government has banned a street march planned for Paris in the wake of recent terror attacks, organisers say it is now even more important for people around the world to come out onto the streets for "the biggest global climate march in history" to protest "on behalf of those who can't". In Australia, the health sector is expected to be prominent at the marches, with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians among groups organising for members to take part. In the article below, medical student Grace FitzGerald explains why she will be joining the march in Melbourne. At the bottom of her article, please check the links to other recent climate news, including tweets from two climate health events this week. ***

    Climate change: A health threat that also presents enormous opportunities

    Grace FitzGerald writes:


    The Met Hadley Office in the UK recently announced that global temperatures will this year exceed one degree Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels for the first time. The significance of this landmark cannot be understated. In the words of some of Australia's leadingpublic health experts, "Beyond two degrees of warming, health impacts threaten to become increasingly unmanageable". There couldn't be a greater urgency for action to protect health and wellbeing from the devastating effects of climate change. The prestigious medical journal The Lancet has described climate change as "the greatest health threat of the 21st century".

    The evidence is irrefutable “ climate change poses unprecedented risks to human health and wellbeing. Taking strong action to protect our land, our water, our food and our communities is critical to protecting health and wellbeing of Australians and people around the globe. In the "land of drought and flooding plains", we are all too frequently reminded of the vulnerability of human health and wellbeing to the wrath of nature. Climate change in Australia is likely to contribute to increased deaths and injuries, particularly among children and the elderly, related to worsening heat waves and other extreme weather events.

    We are not unfamiliar with the fury of heatwaves, such as that which killed 374 Victorians in a single week of January 2009. As weather patterns change, we will face increased water scarcity and food insecurity from drought and floods. Climatic changes to date mean rainfall across south-eastern Australia is likely to decrease by up to 15% before 2030, regardless of whether greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

    As temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change, there will be a spread of food, water, and mosquito-borne infectious diseases in Australia. By 2050, there will be between 205,000 and 335,000 new cases of bacterial gastroenteritis in Australia each year, and up to 870,000 cases by 2100. An additional 335,000 cases could result in $92.3 million in health and surveillance costs and 1.6 million lost workdays Those of us working in health services will be at the frontline of responding to this increased burden of disease. The increased demand on health and emergency services during extreme weather events is difficult to calculate, as extreme weather can aggravate pre-existing illness.

    However, the 2014 heatwaves in Victoria contributed to 203 heat-related deaths, a 20-fold increase in the number of ambulance call-outs, a four-fold increase in calls to nurses-on call and a four-fold increase in calls to locum doctors. The cost associated with damage to hospitals and health infrastructure from extreme weather events is likely to be immense. Indeed repairs to health facilities subsequent to the2011 Queensland floods cost taxpayers $18.1 million. The implications of climate change on the social, economic and environmental determinants of mental health cannot be ignored. In Australia, it has been estimated that the relative risk of suicide can increase by up to 15 percent for rural males aged 30-49 as the severity of drought increases.

    Much of the mental health burden is borne by individuals in under-serviced communities with limited access to appropriate support services. Cruelly illustrative of the social gradient of health, marginalised and disadvantaged groups in Australia will feel the effects of a changing climate most acutely and most severely. Rural and indigenous Australians, low-income individuals and families, and people with chronic diseases will be the first to experience the physiological implications of climate change

    Climate change is a disease amplifier, and will exacerbate many of the health inequities that plague Australia today. Australia is fortunate to have more resilience to the challenges of a changing climate than many less-developed nations. However our island girt by sea will not be untouched by the suffering of others. As our neighbours in the Pacific Islands are threatened by rising sea levels, Australia will have to determine how to respond to an influx of climate refugees. The combined challenges of food an water insecurity and mass displacement are likely to pose significant national security threats.

    Heath opportunities

    Tackling climate change will dramatically improve human health. For example, particulate air pollution contributes to the deaths of up to 2,400 Australians every year “ more than the annual road toll.

    Indeed, pollution from coal combustion and motor-vehicles in Australia is estimated to carry health impact costs of $2.6 and $2.7 billion respectively per annum (see here and here). A move away from fossil-fuel combustion thus has resounding benefits for reducing the burden of disease in Australia. Action to prevent catastrophic climate change is no longer a question of technological or economic capability. Australia is well placed to achieve 100 percent of energy generation from renewable energy by 2050, and could do so without incurring massive adjustment costs or depressing economic growth.

    Transitioning to a renewable energy economy will drastically reduce the burden of respiratory disease, and provide tens of thousands of sustainable jobs in regional areas. Ensuring the efficiency and resilience of our agriculture systems will safeguard the access of all Australians to high quality, nutritious foods. Revolutionising our urban spaces to make them more bike and pedestrian friendly will drastically cut the burden of non-communicable diseases. Sincere commitments to greening our hospitals and healthcare systems, will minimize waste, maximize efficiency and enable our limited healthcare budget to be spent supporting our valuable workforce in their contributions to the community.

    The impetus for action is clear. The longer it takes for our government to commit to strong action to mitigate climate change, the larger the burden of disease in the community will be. As health professionals we have a duty to advocate for the health and wellbeing of our patients. Ours is a respected and valued voice in the community; the voice of evidence-based insight and of demonstrated compassion.

    A sincere commitment to the protect health and wellbeing of Australians requires a genuine, urgent effort to tackle climate change. As world leaders convene in Paris for the 21st Conference of Parties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, communities around the world are mobilising in an unprecedented demonstration of the support for action on climate change. Around the world, the health and science sectors will join the People's Climate Marches to send a resounding message to decision makers that we are firmly committed the pursuit of a healthier future.

    Join us in Australia by RSVPing to, and joining your local march in the color white. ¢ Grace FitzGerald is a medical student at Monash University, and in 2015 co-project managed the Australian Medical Students' Association Code Green project. A "climate octopus", Grace has worked in a volunteer capacity with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Doctors for the Environment Australia, the Climate and Health Alliance, Healthy Futures and Grace has been on the Victorian Organising Committee engaging the health sector in the People's Climate Marches.

  • New report: 'Investing in Health' by CAHA and DEA

    The Climate and Health Alliance and Doctors for the Environment, Australia have released a joint report: Investing in Health

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  • Powerful alliances pushing for action on climate change, locally and globally

    by Mark Hayes via Croakey

    The threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine many of the gains in development and global health of the last fifty years.

    Read more
  • Climate mitigation - the greatest public health opportunity of our time

    by Fiona Armstrong via The Conversation


    Cutting emissions will limit health damages and bring about important health improvements. Pedro Ribeiro Simes/Flickr, CC BY[/caption] Tackling climate change is the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century, a team of 60 international experts today declared in a special report for The Lancet medical journal. The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate report comes six years after the groundbreaking first Commission report “ a collaboration between The Lancet and University College London “ which described climate change as the "biggest global health threat of the 21st century". The latest report shows many mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change can directly reduce the burden of ill health, boost community resilience, and lessen poverty and inequity. In particular, switching to clean renewable energy sources, energy-efficient buildings and active transport options will reduce air pollution and have flow-on health benefits. This includes reducing rates of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, mental illness and respiratory disease. The commission also reveals these health co-benefits associated with emissions reduction strategies offer extraordinary value for money. The financial savings associated with avoided ill-health and productivity gains can outstrip the costs of implementing emissions-reduction strategies “ if they are carefully designed.

    What if we wait?

    The commission makes it plain we cannot afford to wait. There are limits to the level and rate of warming humans and other species can adapt to. With "just" 0.85°C warming since the pre-industrial era, many predicted health threats around the world have become real. Long, intense heatwaves and other extreme weather events such as storms, floods, fires and drought are having direct health impacts. The impacts on ecosystems affects health indirectly, through agricultural losses, as well as contributing to spread of disease.

    Mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change can directly reduce the burden of ill health. Vaclav Volrab/Shutterstock Climate change is affecting economies and social structures, which also cause health impacts, particularly when associated with forced migration and conflict. Given the risks of climate change-induced "regional collapse, famine and war", the commission notes mitigation-focused investment "would seem to be the prudent priority at a global level".

    How does this affect Australians?

    Climate change is driving record temperatures in Australia, with heatwaves now hotter, longer and more frequent. People die from heat exposure during these events. Many others seek medical attention, leading to massive surges in demand for ambulances, emergency services, and health-care services. Deaths from heatwaves in Australian cities are expected to double in the next 40 years. Hotter summers are leading to more bush fires, which cause injuries and fatalities. People lose their homes and businesses. Communities lose schools and health care. After bush fires, communities also face a higher rate of general illness, increased in alcohol and drug abuse, and more mental illness. Extreme rainfall and cyclones cause direct fatalities and injuries. Floods and cyclones can severely affect health care services. In 2011, floods in Queensland caused the cancellation of 1,396 surgical cases, increasing waiting times for vital procedures by 73%. Rising temperatures are leading to increases in deadly foodborne illnesses, disruptions to food production and water security, and worsening air quality, increasing respiratory illnesses. Finally, infectious diseases are becoming more common, as are vector-borne diseases such as Ross River fever and zoonotic diseases, which are spread from animals to humans.

    What does the future hold?

    The report notes that since the first commission six years ago, emissions have risen beyond the "worst case scenario". Without mitigation, the authors warn "large-scale disruptions to the climate system" (not currently included in climate modelling and impact assessments) could "trigger a discontinuity in the long-term progression of humanity". In lay terms, they mean "wipe us out". At the very least, or at least put another way, the authors suggest likely temperature rises may be "incompatible with an organised global community".

    A prescription for action

    Cutting emissions, the commission says, will limit health damages, as well as bring important health improvements associated with improved air quality, increased mobility from better public transport, and better physical and mental health from greener spaces and more energy efficient homes. There is no need to wait. The commission says it is technically feasible to transition to low-carbon infrastructure now. The technologies have been available for at least 40 years, and some since the 19th century.

    The financial savings associated with avoided ill-health and productivity gains can outstrip the costs of implementing emissions-reduction strategies. TCDavis/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND There is potentially significant economic savings associated with the health benefits of climate policies. One study suggests savings from avoided ill-health arising from the implementation of an emissions trading scheme could return up to ten times the cost of implementation. Policies to achieve this must include carbon pricing, the commission argues “ either carbon taxes or emission trading schemes. Where these are not appropriate, it recommends taxes on energy products. Feed-in tariffs (for electricity fed back to the grid) should drive renewable energy deployment, while perverse subsidies to fossil fuels should be abolished. A key recommendation is the rapid phase out of coal “ part of "an early and decisive policy package" to target emissions from the transport, agriculture and energy sectors.

    Timing is everything

    In order to have a 66% likelihood of limiting global warming to less than 2°C, the remaining global carbon budget will be used up in the next 13 to 24 years. As all good health professionals know, treatment is of most value when it addresses the cause “ in this case, largely fossil fuels. Scaling of low-carbon technologies policy options is vital. The commission doesn't spell this out, but in order for global emissions to begin to fall, we must use our remaining carbon budget to make the switch to low-carbon technologies and resources. Doing so will create many new jobs, and help avoid expensive adaptation costs.

    Questions for Australia

    The Lancet commission makes a clear case for climate action based on health benefits alone. This raises important questions for the Australian government, which abolished the carbon price, wound back policies to support renewable energy, and committed to supporting coal as an energy source: Why is it failing to protect the health of Australians from this very serious threat? And why are the health benefits associated with climate policies not being factored into policy decisions, given the billions of dollars in savings for health budgets? Australians should themselves be asking these questions, but at least now we know the Commission will also be listening for the answers. Source:

  • Powerful alliances pushing for action on climate change, locally and globally

    by Mark Hayes via Croakey The threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine many of the gains in development and global health of the last fifty years.

    And yet according to the report, actions to tackle climate change could be the greatest opportunity to improve global health.

    The initial 2009 Lancet report titled, Managing the health effects of climate change, labelled climate change as "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century".

    Climate change is known to impact on health directly through increased injuries and deaths from heat stress, floods, droughts, and storms.

    Beyond these, there are potentially greater indirect impacts: the spread of climate-sensitive infectious diseases; air pollution affecting respiratory diseases; food insecurity; nutritional problems; mass migration and conflict; and mental health.

    However, the momentous new release, to be marked by launch events all over the globe and starting in Melbourne, provides comprehensive new evidence that actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change have significant direct and indirect positive health benefits.

    Six years on from the 2009 report, the new multidisciplinary and international Commission draws on experts from a range of fields, including public health; climate science; geography; ecology; engineering; economics; political science; and public policy.

    They conclude that many mitigation and adaption responses to climate change are "no regrets policies" that are possible right now, and accrue health co-benefits.

    In particular, the report cites health and economic gains from reduced air pollution and transition to sustainable cities that promote healthy lifestyles.

    It recommends rapidly phasing out coal as part of an early and decisive policy package aimed at reducing the health burden of particulate matter and other air pollutants.

    Moreover, the development of energy efficient buildings; low cost active transport; and green urban spaces will not only clean up the air we breath, but will also reduce road traffic accidents, obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.

    The report emphasises that achieving a decarbonised global economy, and the associated public health benefits, is no longer a technical or economic question, but rather it is now a political one.

    In the lead up to the pivotal UN climate negotiations in Paris this December this report calls for bold political commitment.

    Echoing this call for action are leading health and medical groups in Australia who have welcomed the new publication.

    The Nossal Institute for Global Health, Australian Medical Association (Victoria), Public Health Association of Australia (Victoria), the Australian Medical Students Association, the Climate and Health Alliance and the Melbourne Sustainable Societies Institute are cohosting a forum in Melbourne, with Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty set to launch the publication in Australia.

    Australian National University, the Royal Australian College of Physicians, University of Western Australia, the Climate Council, and Adelaide University are all hosting events in the following days and months.

    With the Australian government expected to release its revised emission reduction targets in mid-July, time will soon tell if our leaders will hear the calls from health professionals.

    The solutions are available and effective.

    Health communities around the globe agree that we can, and must, act now to protect our health now and into the future.


  • Climate change: a great threat to health, but not as generally conceived

    by Professor Colin Butler via Croakey Prior to the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference the Lancet published a 41 page article called "Managing the health effects of climate change". The text postulated that "climate change is potentially the biggest global health threat in the 21st century" but the executive summary was unambiguous: "Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century". Later this month, in the lead up to the Paris climate change summit, the Lancet is to again publish a major report on climate change and health. I had no role in either, though I edited a recent book on the subject. A WHO-led study found that in 2000 the burden of disease (BOD) of climate change caused about 5.5 million lost disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), mainly due to climate change-related undernutrition, with minor contributions from infectious diseases. This sounds significant, but was less than 0.4% of the global BOD in 2000.

    In contrast, HIV/AIDS, the leading cause of lost DALYs in the "baseline" scenario for 2030, contributes about 12% of the total “ or about 30 times as much as climate change in 2000. Climate change is a risk factor, not a disease, so it is likely to cause an increased BOD for several health conditions. However, each of those conditions (such as undernutrition) has several causes; attributing the fraction that climate change is responsible for is bound to be disputed. Tobacco smoke, closely followed by childhood underweight, was found to be the leading risk factors in an updated BOD study published in 2013, each causing about 8% of the total burden, or about 20 times as much as that of climate change in 2000. The claim that climate change will emerge as the greatest threat to global health this century is striking and surely calls for strong evidence, if to be taken seriously. But though some health workers do take it literally, my contention is that most don't. Outside health, even fewer do. I suggest several explanations.

    The first may lie with the Lancet paper itself. It is vague, repetitive, and in part overstated. At one point it comments "a 13-m rise [in sea level] would cause the flooding and permanent abandonment of almost all low-lying coastal and river urban areas. Currently, a third of the world's population lives within 60 miles of a shoreline and 13 of the world's 20 largest cities are located on a coast. More than a billion people could be displaced in environmental mass migration." That sounds plausible, except that neither the IPCC nor any other authority suggests any such extent of sea level rise is likely this century. Few if any peer reviewed articles suggest more than 2 metres of sea level rise this century is plausible. A perception of exaggeration may reduce the impact of this paper, contrary to the authors' intention.

    The Lancet paper identifies six main health effects from climate change: (1) changing patterns of disease and morbidity, (2) food, (3) water and sanitation, (4) shelter and human settlements, (5) extreme events, and (6) population and migration. However, no attempt is made to rigorously quantify the health effects for any of these. I can understand why, but this risks creating a perception of "hand waving". Another reason for the comparative lack of impact of this paper is that although its authors are consciously inter-disciplinary, the consensus in many other disciplines is far more conservative. This is exemplified by the issue of conflict. The possibility that climate change may contribute to violent climate was first raised in the health literature in 1989 (in a Lancet editorial), but has rarely surfaced since. A recent paper, by 26 leading gatekeepers to the political science literature confirmed the resistance of this discipline to this idea, although, outside political science, the idea is gaining more currency. The 2009 Lancet paper also reviews the literature at that time concerning food security and climate change. While not quantifying the risk, the message is consistently more downbeat than that of the IPCC reports, though the 2013 IPCC food chapter is less optimistic than its predecessors.

    If disciplinary specialists do not share the anxiety of the Lancet authors then why should generalists? There is another reason that neither health workers nor the wider community takes the Lancet paper's claim seriously: general incredulity. Conceding that our species is capable of critically undermining the environmental and social determinants that make civilisation possible appears to stretch our species' collective cognitive capacity. While many scientists (such as Will Steffen in this excellent recent lecture) and an increasing number of lay and business people (including Elon Musk) do understand this “ and are rightly apprehensive, about "business as usual" the understanding that most of the world's population has of climate science seems not much better than of evolution a century ago. Adding to this difficulty, of course, are powerful vested interests that deliberately confuse and cloud public understanding and, to an extent, inherent scientific conservatism.

    The final explanation I'd like to raise here is of causal attribution, also related to cognitive biases. The late Professor Tony McMichael coined the term "prisoners of the proximate" to encourage his epidemiological colleagues to think more deeply about cause. Of course, McMichael was not the first to do this; causal theory is as old as philosophy. However, despite this vintage, many people, including scientists, get stuck with their preconceptions, and many have trouble conceding not only that there may be additional causal factors, but that these may co-exist with, rather than supplant their current causal preference. This tension is obvious concerning conflict.

    Military theorists are happy to conceive climate change as a "risk multiplier" for conflict, but not (yet) political scientists. Climate change can indeed be conceptualised as the most important risk to health this century, but it is only one element in a risky milieu. Lowering the risk from climate change requires reducing the risk of many of its co-determinants of civilisation health. Among these, the most important factor may be complacency. Source:

    image source: WWF 

  • Electronic networking does work!

    A report from the ˜Environmentally sustainable practice in hospitals and community settings' seminar 15 May 2015

    Janet Roden, Professional Officer in the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWN&MA), and Peter Sainsbury, Director of Population Health in South Western Sydney Local Health District, met in 2014 on a Global Green and Healthy Hospitals webinar organised by CAHA Convenor Fiona Armstrong. Out of that meeting the two of them organised an ˜Environmental Health Seminar' attended by 50 health professionals at Liverpool Hospital on 15 May 2015 “ a first in NSW for collaboration between a local health district and the NSWN&MA on environmental sustainability.

    The focus of the seminar was on environmentally sustainable practices in hospital and community settings and the 50 health professionals present heard a tremendous array of knowledgeable speakers, all of who have runs on the board promoting environmental sustainability in their own workplaces. Debbie Wilson, Sustainability Officer with the Counties Manukau District Health Board in New Zealand, focused in her keynote speech on outlining the activities of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals network and the environmental initiatives they have introduced in Manukau.

    In the afternoon, Debbie talked about the identification and management of toxic chemicals in health services. Other speakers included Chris Hill talking about the initiatives taken to promote environmental sustainability at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane; Terrona Ramsay and Aileen Thomas describing the very innovative approaches adopted to make the small regional health service at Kooweerup in Victoria greener; Michelle Skrivanic and Alison Brannelly talking about the initiatives nurses can take in large hospitals, for instance reducing and separating waste in operating theatres; and Matt Power from St Vincent's Health Australia describing how health services can improve energy efficiency.

    And somewhere amongst all that we found time for lots discussion with the audience, much of it focussing on the practicalities of (and problems associated with) encouraging health services to become more environmentally sustainable. All in all, a very practical and enjoyable day ¦ and all because of professional speed dating. Click on the links below for podcast recordings of the presentations:

  • Power, Money and Morals

    The following presentation was given at the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Vic branch) Health and Environment Conference in March 2015 by CAHA Executive Director, Fiona Armstrong. Below is a transcript of her speech and the slides from the presentation:

    Power, money, and morals - threats to our life supports

    This afternoon I'm going to talk about power, money and morals “ as threats to our life support systems.

    I hope that resonates with you as nurses and midwives, and that in your roles as nurses and midwives you feel compelled to respond to the threat that power and money and morals (or a lack thereof) poses to the biosphere “ that is, the life support systems on which we and all other species depend.

    So I'm talking about power in the sense of energy (electricity or gas or oil) and power in the sense of political / corporate / societal power.

    When I talk about money, I'm talking about the finances that are invested in power (all forms of it) and support the current structures of power in all senses, and when I talk about morals, I'm talking about the values that underpin the struggle to save the biosphere and the failure of political, corporate and to be honest, civil society leaders as well, to assume the ethical responsibilities that come with leadership.

    In beginning with power, I'm going to name to the major villain “ by no means the only “ but the single biggest driver of climate change and as such, one of the greatest threat to the biosphere, coal.

    Coal has made a major contribution to the development of human civilisation, but its days are over and its pursuit as an energy source in the 21st century is dangerous and potentially suicidal for our species and akin to the murder of others.

    The case is very clear: we cannot burn coal in Australia anymore.

    We can't burn coal anymore if the world is to have a better than 50% chance of avoiding global warming of more than 2 degrees “ a level scientists say is itself not safe.

    Right now, we're on track for 4-6 degree rise in the lifetimes of our children “ both a level and a rate of temperature rise completely unprecedented during the period of human civilisation.

    A rise that is happening too fast for many species to adapt to.

    To stop the temperatures rise, we have to stop producing greenhouse gases.

    Not talk about it, not argue about it.


    We now know there is a limited amount of greenhouse gases that can be produced if we are avoid global warming going beyond a level that may lead to non-linear, exponential and irreversible warming.

    That's good “ we've got a number to work with.

    The global carbon budget (as it is known) tells us how many gigatonnes of CO2 we've got left before we push things too, too far.

    But given we've already gone too far, we need to be careful.

    And we need to decide who gets to produce those last few emissions.

    Should it be us, who have already contributed over the last 150 years to global warming, and produce almost 20 tonnes of CO2 per person per year? Should we get a bigger share than Brazil, who produce just 1/6 our emissions per person? Or India, who produce about two tonnes per person per year? Is it fair, to say we want to burn more than our fair share of coal? What right do we have to produce more emissions than other nations who are also seeking to develop their economies, lift their people out of poverty, and provide jobs? So that's one of the issues around morals, and ethics and fairness.

    Another is: what right do politicians have to ignore scientific evidence on climate change? Ethicist and lawyer Donald Brown from Widener University in the US wrote recently, "although ordinary individuals may have no duty to go beyond their own personal opinion about the science of climate change, government officials who have the power to enact policies that could prevent catastrophic harm to millions of people around the world may not as a matter of ethics justify their refusal to support policies to reduce the threat of climate change on the basis of their uninformed opinions on climate science." If your MP says "I don't support policies to prevent dangerous climate change" because "I don't believe climate change is occurring" or "I'm not sure climate change is human caused", this position is not only unscientific, its also unethical and unjustifiable.

    Elected members of the parliament have a responsibility to rely on evidence, not their own opinion when it comes to making decisions about policy.

    Particularly when those decisions, as they do when it comes to climate and energy policy, as Donald says, have the power to affect the health and lives of millions of people around the world.

    Why are politicians so persuaded by industry arguments that they might ignore the repeated warnings of scientists? Why, for example, did Tony Abbott say in October of last year that: "coal is good for humanity?" It was straight out of the coal industry songbook.

    As journalist Graham Readfearn wrote, those words would have had the champagne corks popping out of bottles in coal company boardrooms around the world.

    In the lead-up to the G20 in Brisbane last year, while esteemed health scientists were writing open letters in the pages of the Medical Journal of Australia imploring the Prime Minister to put climate change on the agenda of the G20, the coal industry was pouring money into a PR campaign called Advanced Energy for Life.

     This campaign was aimed at influencing world leaders to join the industry in a newfound passion for "fighting energy poverty". The world's biggest coal company, Peabody Energy, teamed up with the world's biggest PR company Burson-Marsteller, whose previous work includes trying to discredit the science around harm to health from tobacco. This campaign suggests that without access to coal, the developed world will forever be consigned to poverty. In an extraordinary display of hubris, and to be frank, lies, they even claim: "coal is key to human health and welfare, along with a clean environment."

    As well as funding PR campaigns to try and deflect attention from the harm caused by coal to human health and climate change, the fossil fuel energy sector has actively funded think tanks and so-called scientists to try and discredit the evidence around climate change, pretend that gas is a clean energy (it's not), and suggest renewable energy is not up to task.

    They have been busy offering political donations to secure policies that privilege their industries and acting to destroy the renewable energy sector that poses a threat to their profits.

    Climate denier scientist Willie Soon for example received 100% of his research grants between 2002 and 2010 from fossil fuel interests.

    Australian coal lobby groups the Minerals Council and the Coal Association were part of an industry alliance that spent $8 million lobbying against the carbon tax, because it would create a financial disincentive to pollute, precisely what it was intended to do.

    The ironically named New Hope coal company donated $700,000 to the Liberal National party in Qld just before the last election “ a move many consider to be a bid to secure approval for the expansion of their controversial New Acland coal near Toowoomba.

    It was approved just weeks before the Qld election, a mine that has already destroyed the village of Acland, caused considerable suffering for its last remaining resident, and over the lifetime of the mine, will cause many illnesses and deaths from the pollution it produces, and the global warming it will help accelerate (7.5Mtpa to 2029).

    Eleven people died last year when the disused Hazelwood coal mine caught fire in the hat of the summer, cloaking the town of Morwell in a thick toxic cloud of smoke and ash for more than a month.

    Coal causes million of dollars a year in health damages, and hundreds of billions of dollars in global damages.

    Our recent report Coal and Health in the Hunter: Lessons from One Valley for the World estimated that current coal production in the Hunter Valley is responsible for climate damages of between $16-66 billion per annum.

    Just days after our report was released it was revealed the NSW government was working with the industry to pave the way to approve an additional 16 open cut mines, to join the 30 odd already in operation, without health impact assessment, without community consultation, without any assessment of the global harm they would cause.

    So what is at stake here? What are these life support systems, how are they at risk, and who says so? In 1992, 1,700 of the world's leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel Laureates in the sciences, wrote an appeal entitled ˜World Scientists Warning to Humanity'.

    It said: "Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.

    Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources.

    If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.

    Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about." Last year, an international group of ecologists and biologists released their findings from a study which suggests we are now much closer to that collision.

    Stuart Pimm from Duke University said: "When you look at the range of unsustainable things that we are doing to the planet, changing the atmosphere, global warming, massively depleting fisheries, driving species to extinction, we realize that we have a decade or two." One of the consequences of failing to act is what climate scientist Michael Mann calls the procrastination penalty: "the longer we wait, the harder it will be".

    And it will be much more expensive.

    Mitigating climate change (that is cutting emissions, moving to a low carbon economy) now will be much cheaper than if we wait.

    But in terms of species loss, as they say, extinction is forever.

    So how do we respond, and where in the world are people and governments responding? Well, the good news is that the shift to the green economy is well underway.

    Industries based on green growth are now outperforming other asset classes and investments in extractive industries and fossil fuels are fast becoming a liability or worse, stranded assets.

    People, communities, cities, businesses, and some nations are responding.

    Energy producing, rather than energy consuming homes, are emerging.

    Zero carbon buildings, transport and energy systems are now possible.

    Local, chemical free, ethically produced and organic food systems are springing up.

    The health sector is responding “ over 10,000 hospitals and health services are now member of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals network.

    Over ten health systems in Australia are now members, with over 40 major hospitals, and approximately 100 other health services, working together to reduce their carbon and environmental footprint.

    We also need to develop what the human ecologist Stephen Boyden describes as "biosensitive" societies, that is, a society which is sensitive to the biological needs of all living systems, and recognises their interdependence.

    The emphasis on "rewilding" in children's education, and exposing them more to nature is part of the effort to redevelop this.

    Educator and author Richard Heinberg from the Post Carbon Institute wrote recently about energy revolution that's underway.

    He says: "Industrial ecology, biomimicry, "cradle-to-cradle" manufacturing, local food, voluntary simplicity, permaculture, and green building are just a few of the strategies have emerged" that are part of the transition.

    Importantly many people are refusing to accept that the continuation of the current political failure is inevitable or acceptable; we are seeing increasing levels of political engagement across many sectors; people are organizing, speaking out, and taking action.

    Look at the powerful example of the Lock the Gate movement that has made coal seam gas a key election issue in NSW.

    Take my colleague Professor Colin Butler, an internationally respected public health researcher, contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who is so affronted by Australia's ludicrous, dangerous and irresponsible decisions about coal that he resorted to direct action and was arrested obstructing the efforts of Whitehaven coal to clear native threatened woodlands to develop a coal mine in the Leard Forest in NSW.

    Colin is practicing what he preaches “ he and I, along with Professor Peter Sainsbury, are the authors of a paper recently published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health in which we conclude, in the face of unbridled corporate power risking our collective future, where parliaments have become an evidence free zone, and politicians are for sale, civil disobedience is now necessary.

    It's not for everyone.

    But there is a role for everyone in reclaiming our democracy, for refusing to allow absurdly short term and ultimately self-destructive gains to be pursued when the costs are so great and the stakes are so high.

    I'm talking to all you here when I say: "Don't look the other way".

    Democracy, defending the future, and fighting injustice and greed is everyone's job, and it's particularly the job of people who are instinctively drawn to the caring professions, who care about fairness, equity and understand intergenerational responsibility.

    Slavery wasn't abolished, and women's rights didn't come about, by people waiting nicely for someone else to do the right thing.

    They had to be fought for.

    As members of a union, you are very well positioned to organise, and to confront these threats with collective power.

    If unions decided to make climate action an issue, governments would be unable to avoid acting to respond.

    As an organisation you can be part of building the social movement that demands political responses commensurate with the task at hand.

    A low carbon and healthy future is desirable, achievable with current technologies and budgets, in the timeframe that's necessary.

    And it's possible.

    But we'll have to fight for it.

    Let's make sure we can look our children and our grandchildren in the eye and say we didn't stand back.

    Or look the other way.

    Let's make their future safe, and pass on a world we are proud to say we fought to protect.


    Download slides: Power, money and morals- threats to our life support systems ANMF 20 March 2015

  • Greening the Healthcare Sector Think Tank 14th Oct 2014

    Hosted by Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) and Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) in partnership with Global Green and Healthy Hospitals


    Event Title: ˜The Health Sector as a Leader in Low Carbon Transformation' When: Tuesday 14th October 2014 Where: Mater Hospital, South Brisbane Featuring case studies and experts on the following themes:

    • Building healthy and sustainable healthcare infrastructure
    • Waste not “ the transformation of disposal in healthcare
    • Engaging others “ making sustainability everyone's business
    • Building a national and global community for healthy, sustainable healthcare

    Opportunities to improve environmental sustainability in the healthcare sector are rapidly expanding. There are increasingly substantive economic drivers supporting a growing cohort of health and sustainability professionals in implementing strategies in their organisations for cutting carbon, reducing waste, minimising chemicals, and greening the supply chain. The Greening the Healthcare Sector Think Tank provides an opportunity for those working in the sector to hear first hand case studies of change, talk to experts, hear about opportunities for collaboration, and contribute to a discussion about how we can work together to accelerate progress within the health sector towards sustainable healthcare and hospital practices. This Think Tank will allow participants to hear from industry leaders and professionals and engage in discussions about strategies to improve environmental sustainability and population health while reducing pressure on health sector budgets. Building green healthcare facilities, engaging staff for institution-wide change, reducing waste and saving money will be some of the topics covered in this dynamic and interactive event.

    The Think Tank will be facilitated by leading sustainability educator and consultant Ian McBurney, and will feature snap shot presentations from professionals, followed by engaging and interactive discussions.

    Beamed in live from Washington state will be Nick Thorp, Global Community Manager of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals network. Hear about this rapidly expanding network and the innovative platform that is enabling health and sustainability professionals to connect with one another around the world. If you are looking for tools and resources to support sustainability initiatives and want to know how to succeed through collaboration with others “ look no further! Download the program here. Register now! Click on this link to register.  

  • CAHA and Climate Council Joint Statement on Coal and Health

    Joint Statement on the Health Effects of Coal in Australia

    The Climate and Health Alliance and the Climate Council have released a Joint Statement on the Health Effects of Coal in Australia in response to the Inquiry report from Hazelwood coal mine fire in Victoria, saying: "Australia's heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation and massive coal industry expansion present significant risks to the health of communities, families and individuals."

    The Joint Statement calls for: health risks to be considered in all energy policy and investment decisions; independent air, water and soil quality monitoring at and around every coal mine and power station in Australia; and funding for research into health, social and environmental impacts of coal. The Joint Statement is accompanied by a Briefing Paper on Health Effects of Coal in Australia which outlines the scientific health and medical literature on the impacts on health from the production of coal. The Joint Statement is signed by Professor Fiona Stanley, Professor Tim Flannery from the Climate Council and Dr Liz Hanna, President of Climate and Health Alliance on behalf of CAHA's 27 member organisations.

    The Joint Statement reads: "We, the undersigned, accept the clear evidence that:
    1. coal mining and burning coal for electricity emits toxic and carcinogenic substances into our air, water and land;
    2. coal pollution is linked to the development of potentially fatal diseases and studies show severe health impacts on miners, workers and local communities;
    3. Australia's heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation and massive coal industry expansion present significant risks to the health of communities, families and individuals; and
    4. emissions from coal mine fires, like the recent Hazelwood mine fire in Victoria, and the release of heavy metal and organic compounds, pose health risks for surrounding populations, such as respiratory and heart disease, cancers and other health conditions.


    "We believe that Federal and State governments must urgently research and account for these risks to human health starting with consistent air, water and soil quality monitoring at and around every coal mine and power station in Australia.

    "We are calling on governments and industry to acknowledge the significant human health risks associated with the whole lifecycle of coal production “ mining, transportation, combustion and the disposal of waste “ and to urgently fund research and account for these risks in policy, planning and investment decisions in Australia.

    "While we recognise the role coal played in the industrial revolution “ as an important energy source helping advance economies and improve livelihoods “ studies now show that every phase of coal's lifecycle presents major human health risks and contributes to ecological degradation, loss of biodiversity and climate change.

    "In addition to the release of greenhouse gases, which are the primary cause of climate change, coal mining and electricity generation emit known toxic and carcinogenic substances into our air, water and land.

    These emissions include mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, nitrogen oxides and inhalable airborne particulates.

    "Authoritative studies in Europe and the United States show severe health impacts from coal emissions on miners, workers and local communities.

    These studies link coal pollution to the development of potentially fatal diseases, resulting in thousands of premature deaths and costing national economies tens to hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

    In the United States, the Physicians for Social Responsibility found that coal contributes to four of the five leading causes of mortality: heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic respiratory diseases.

    Health risks are not limited to mining and combustion.

    Emissions from coal mine fires are linked to lung cancer, bronchitis, heart disease and other health conditions.

    At home, despite Australia's heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation “ it provides 75% of our electricity supply “ research and monitoring of the resulting health effects is limited.

    Most research has been conducted overseas, whereas in Australia - one of the world's leading producers, consumers and exporters of coal - the burden of disease remains under investigated.

    Furthermore, the disease burden will escalate as the massive coal industry expansion underway in Australia presents additional risk to human health in Australia and overseas.

    The significant health costs associated with coal are not currently reflected in the price of coal-fired electricity in Australia.

    In 2009, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) estimated coal's health impacts cost taxpayers $2.6 billion every year.

    "A dire lack of monitoring and research in Australia is letting down coal mining communities." Recommendations:

    1. Coal's human health risks must be properly considered and accounted for in all energy and resources policy and investment decisions.

    2. We also encourage the investment in education and training opportunities to support coal mining communities to transition away from fossil fuel industries towards new industries.

    3. National standards for consistent air, water and soil quality monitoring at and around every coal mine and power station in Australia conducted by an independent body with no relationship to the coal industry.

    4. Adequate funding allocated for research to evaluate the health, social and environmental impacts of coal in coal mining communities.

    This joint statement is signed by Professor Tim Flannery, Professor Fiona Stanley, the Climate Council of Australia and the Climate and Health Alliance representing its 27 health organisations as members.

    Professor Tim Flannery, Chief Councillor, The Climate Council of Australia
    Professor Fiona Stanley, Distinguished Research Professor, School of Paediatrics and Child Health (SPACH), The University of Western Australia, a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Melbourne and the Patron of the Telethon Kids Institute.    
       Dr. Liz Hanna, President of the Climate and Health Alliance