There’s a new IPCC report out. And it clearly lays out why climate change is a big health issue.
This is not news to doctors and other health workers around Australia who’ve been witnessing the impacts of climate change on their patients for years.
They say, the cost of climate inaction is our health. And that we need to act now to stop things getting worse.
“Climate change affects health in many ways,” says Kate Wylie from Doctors for the Environment Australia.
“Some days I sit at work and look at the people who come to me for help, for the various problems people see GPs about — mental health, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, injuries, pregnancy care and so much more — and feel deep sadness. I know they are being failed by disregard and inaction.”
"Some days I sit at work and look at the people who come to me for help ... and I know they are being failed by disregard and inaction.”
Dr Wylie can roll off a long list of how our health and wellbeing is directly affected by climate damage.
There is the physical trauma, illness and death from extreme weather events like floods, storms, bushfires and heatwaves. There are respiratory problems that come with exposure to bushfire smoke and allergens, as so many Australians discovered in the Black Summer fires.
Then there is the rise in infectious diseases, like malaria and dengue fever, as mosquitoes and other carriers expand their ranges. Threats to shelter, food and water that accompany rising sea levels. And increasing mental health issues when dealing with the stress of all these impacts.
Dr Amita Roy is a Melbourne GP who has seen her share of emergency admissions linked to extreme weather and climate-change fuelled fires.
“As a doctor, I see a lot of mental health issues in people impacted by climate disasters. I’ve seen people whose houses have been destroyed, their livelihoods have been destroyed.
"And I’ve seen people that are so on edge, so anxious, even suicidal because of things like this," she says.
"The IPCC report highlights all the ways in which climate change impacts our physical and psychological wellbeing.
"Now, working in an Aboriginal health service, the discussion about vulnerable communities being impacted the most by climate change resonates with me, as I see how the destruction of nature affects the mental health of my patients.
"The science is there, the evidence is there but now — more than ever — we need real movement on climate change."
Amita says by acknowledging the breadth of ways climate change affects health and wellbeing, we can also help people who are living in uncertainty and give them hope.
This is what climate action can do. Give hope and show we have solutions at hand.
In Central Australia, things are feeling a bit different. For one, the days are increasingly scorching. And how this intense heat affects the health and wellbeing of the community worries Alice Springs doctor Simon Quilty.
“I have many friends who already live in extremely tenuous socioeconomic circumstances … they all know things are getting hotter and changing, and their capacity to shelter from the new extremes of heat is limited at best,” says Simon.
Dr Quilty is already doing what he can at a local level. Along with his colleagues, he is part of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals alliance to reduce our environmental footprint.
“All of my efforts now are redirected to mitigating and adapting to the new reality of climate change,” he says.
“Even though we are facing monumental challenges, the collaborative pace of action towards addressing climate change gives me real hope that we'll get to where we need to be.”
Every action matters. Every fraction of a degree we prevent keeps us safer.
“We have everything we need to nurse our climate back to health,” says Dr Michelle Hamrosi who lived through the Black Summer fires, and saw what this did to health in her region.
“But the latest IPCC report highlights the urgency of the situation. Climate change is a health crisis. This report shows us this in clear terms."
“Doctors like me will bear witness to the rising harm and death toll in the decades to come. I don't want to see my patients and community suffer when clear solutions to this crisis are at hand,” says Michelle.
“I am calling on our government to act urgently, as they did for the Covid-19 pandemic, because our health and livelihoods depend on it.”
We could all breathe easier if our government was doing enough on climate change. Australians, old and young, deserve so much better.
Doctors and health workers are speaking out as part of Together We Can.
A movement of everyday Australians, groups and businesses from all over the country who want more action taken to address climate change.
We're ready to get behind solutions for a safe and healthy future for everyone. This is a climate movement for everyone. Let's all raise our voice and call for climate action now.
Header image: Pollution merging with bushfire smoke over Sydney. Photo: Liudmyla Shcherbyna/Shuttertock
Photos: Amita Roy: Tom Kinsman/ACF; Simon Quilty: Jess Xavier/ALEC; Michelle Hamrosi: Annette Ruzicka/MAPgroup