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Climate change is harmful to our health: taking action will have many benefits

Linda A Selvey
Med J Aust 2015; 203 (10): 397-398. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.00655

“Tackling climate change could be the greatest health opportunity of the 21st century” (The Lancet, 2015)

Humanity is at a critical juncture, where decisions made today will have a dramatic impact on our future. In late November 2015, world leaders will gather in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21). The aim of the meeting is to deliver a global agreement that will reduce carbon emissions, with the aim of limiting global warming to an increase of 2°C. A failure to do so will have far-reaching consequences for human health, in Australia and globally.

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  • Linda A Selvey

  • Curtin University, Perth, WA

Correspondence: lselvey@optusnet.com.au

Competing interests:

Linda Selvey is a member of Doctors for the Environment Australia and is on the board of the Wilderness Society Australia; she is also a past CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

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  • 2. Watts N, Adger WN, Agnolucci P, et al. Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. Lancet 2015; Jun 24 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6.
  • 3. Bouzid M, Hooper L, Hunter PR. The effectiveness of public health interventions to reduce the health impact of climate change: a systematic review of systematic reviews. PLoS ONE 2013; 8: e62041.
  • 4. Victorian Department of Human Services. January 2009 heatwave in Victoria: an assessment of health impacts. Melbourne: Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2009. https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/Api/downloadmedia/%7B959CCD3C-8285-4938-872E-62E15AA62C62%7D (accessed Aug 2015).
  • 5. Selvey LA, Rutherford S, Dodds J, et al. The impact of climate-related extreme events on public health workforce and infrastructure. How can we be better prepared? Aust N Z J Public Health 2014; 38: 208-210.
  • 6. Husband A, Drewnowski A, Aggarwal A, et al. Climate change and the role of food price in determining obesity risk. Am J Public Health 2013; 103: E2-E3.
  • 7. Smith JK, Young MM, Wilson KL, Craig SB. Leptospirosis following a major flood in Central Queensland, Australia. Epidemiol Infect 2013; 141: 585-590.

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access_time 04:35, 20 November 2015
Peter William Tait

Selvey clearly annunciates the consequences of not taking rapid action to mitigate and begin steps to adapt to global warming. She notes that Australians are not “sufficiently motivated to make [necessary] changes to our energy generation systems and consumption” and lists adaptation measures needed to avoid health consequences.

However what is missing in her prescription is the absolutely critical role of government leadership. Without leadership at the government level to spearhead the discussion about change that is needed, the process of that change, and to adjust the institutional arrangements that will permit change, exhorting Australians to take more than symbolic action is more likely to discourage than prompt any response.

The medical profession can stimulate government action and we should continue to strategically do so. The RACP’s recent Doctors for Climate Action Campaign is an example of such action, although we need to continue to demand and advocate for government to do more. As health professionals it is our ethical duty.

Competing Interests: Member Doctors for the Environment Australia

Dr Peter William Tait
Public Health Association of Australia

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