Article Title: Don't Care About Climate Change? What About the Health of Children?
Author: Fiona Stanley and Sallie Forrest
Publication: The Guardian
A research group out of Australia is looking at the big picture of climate change. What makes this article different is that it specifically focuses on the world’s most important resource: our children. This article asks the age old question, “are we leaving the world a better place for our children?” and answers “no.”
An increase in natural disasters such as severe heat waves or floods can cause emotional trauma for children. Some children who have experienced some of these weather related disasters have shown signs of PTSD. More and more children are also suffering physically from the warming temperatures. Climate change has led to an increase in cases of heat related illnesses, asthma, and other ailments. The children are vulnerable and it is time we start to make a real effort to fix the world they are living in.
If you care about reducing emissions, taking care of this planet, or the future of your children, this article will inspire you to take action. It presents the facts and the problem without placing blame. Climate change is a problem for the whole world, and they are calling out to the whole world to fix it.
Climate change is not just an urgent environmental issue; it is having a devastating effect on health.
Doctors for the Environment Australia’s (DEA) latest report finds that children are more vulnerable to global warming than adults for four major reasons: their behaviour exposes them to risks, their bodies respond differently, they depend on others, and they can have a lifetime of exposure to potential harms.
Climate change will significantly affect Australians’ health, report finds
Doctors are concerned Australian children are already suffering health effects from increasing temperatures, and more frequent and severe droughts, floods, bushfires and heatwaves as a result of climate change. Doctors are also worried about rising temperatures causing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue, to areas further south, affecting air pollution levels, and increasing allergenic pollen in the air leading to higher rates of hayfever and asthma.
Recent research from Brisbane and Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney demonstrated that higher temperatures increased rates of child emergency department attendances for fever, gastroenteritis and asthma.
Children are vulnerable to heat-related illness due to behaviours such as playing outdoors, failing to drink sufficiently and being less able to control their environment; their smaller body mass to surface area ratio and higher requirement for water per unit of weight; and their immature immune systems which can predispose them to infections such as gastroenteritis.
Children’s ongoing brain development, along with their dependence on care-givers, also makes them more vulnerable to the emotional trauma and cognitive effects of witnessing extreme weather events like bushfires and floods. Children surveyed six months after the 2003 Canberra bushfires showed much higher rates of behavioural and emotional problems and nearly half showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But what worries doctors the most is the future health effects of four degrees of warming this century should we not rapidly reduce emissions. This would threaten the underlying foundations for children’s health – clean water, food supply, and social and economic stability.
While 88% of the burden of disease from climate change today is felt by children in developing countries, rich countries emitting high levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unequivocally the cause. We have a moral responsibility to assist the children of the world along with a vested interest in maintaining geopolitical stability.
Further, existing inequities within society will widen as those already marginalised are least able to cope. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children already suffer lack of access to healthy foods or adequate infrastructure and are at increased risk.
Ultimately climate change represents a major intergenerational injustice – if we do nothing we are committing intergenerational theft of grand proportions. We urge governments to act to both mitigate and plan for adaptation.
Climate change is a good example of “prevention being better than cure”. To avoid more than two degrees of warming this century (the internationally agreed “safe” level) we need to start markedly reducing emissions this decade and continue major wind backs after that. Our current bipartisan target of a 5% reduction on 2000 levels by 2020 is woefully inadequate, and plans to markedly increase coal exports are irresponsible – all Australian governments are failing in their duty to protect citizens.
Unfortunately climate change has become the victim of vested interests and politics in Australia. In fact it’s so politically charged that we have been told that we are being brave to mention it in this report! We struggle to get the media to discuss what should be the most talked about issue of our time. Other countries are now acting to reduce emissions and Australia is being left behind and internationally criticised.
We must adapt and prepare our health system for impacts from unavoidable climate change. We know infrastructure is struggling to cope with increasing extreme weather events. For example, despite an estimated 374 excess deaths due to the heat wave surrounding the Black Saturday fires of 2009, a damning review last year by the auditor general found Victorians were still receiving mixed messages about preventing heat-related illnesses and that at least four hospitals lost power during the heatwave in January 2014. The auditor general said:
Individual agency heatwave plans were not mandatory, their quality variable, and there was a lack of clarity around the triggers for activation of the plans.
Ultimately, climate change commitments must be made based on the medical science, as doctors have achieved before with tobacco and asbestos. We need better data on the health and other effects of climate change housed in a major centre in the Commonwealth department of health with satellite units in each state to initiate, implement and monitor a national strategy for the health effects of climate change.
The aim of DEA, a health advocacy organisation of medical doctors raising awareness of the link between health and the environment, in releasing the report on the impacts of climate change on the health of children was to influence Australian government emissions reduction commitments at the global climate negotiations this year in Paris. The AMA has set up a working group on the issue, and the Royal Australian College of Physicians has just voted to divest from fossil fuels. We hope that this report, with evidence that this is a major issue for the future health and wellbeing of our children, will influence both those in power and the general community to push for change.
We need parents and grandparents to stand up and demand better of their elected representatives to protect their children and grandchildren.