How health is a climate change issue

Climate change certainly appears to a topic that both leaders would prefer not to discuss in much detail during the current election campaign.  Ignoring for a moment that the policies put forth are expected to lead to an increase in Australia’s emissions (according to the Climate Institute’s Pollute O Meter), Tony Abbott has this week barely concealed his skepticism of human induced climate change, and Julia Gillard devoted just 0.2% of her campaign launch speech to the topic.

While climate change seems to be the elephant in the room being ignored (but who just won’t go away), health has been a major topic of discussion for our political leaders in the past few weeks. The state of public health is obviously an issue that touches everyone, and has far more tangiable and immediate impacts on the nation that outweigh thoughts on what may be occurring in the Pacific Islands, the Arctic or in Australia more than 3 years into the future.

What our leaders have so far failed to recognise is the ever greater prominance of climate change as  a significant human health issue.  Last month, the Australian Medical Association called on the federal government to set up a national climate change and health strategy, given the expected impacts of unabated climate change upon public health.

Eugenie Kayak from Doctors for the Environment Australia has said:

As a modern society we have often failed to recognise, or conveniently forgotten, the absolute dependence of human health on stable, productive, healthy, natural environments. Nearly all the adverse environmental effects of climate change threaten human health and humanity possibly to catastrophic levels and probably sooner than many realise.

These are not extreme views but rather follow what has been expressed by respected international health journals and organisations concerning the relationship between climate change and human health. For example, in 2009, leading international medical journal, the Lancet, published that, “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan stated that, “The real bottom-line of climate change is its risk to human health and quality of life”.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said, “Climate change threatens all our goals for development and social progress” and “it is a true existential threat to the planet”.

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