An organisation promoting Pacific youth to take leadership on climate change, called 350 Pacific, organised representatives from 12 Pacific islands to share their stories in Australia last month to provide insight into the human face of climate change.
By Grace Isobel Davies
National Student Representative, Doctors for the Environment Australia
A young girl’s statement, “We have a right to exist”, demonstrated, from a medical perspective, the potential of the mental health impact from this existential threat.
Fear, trauma, uncertainty and emotional distress, particularly in children, are well-documented implications of climate change impacts.
Yet from the heartfelt accounts of rising sea levels, salt intrusion on the limited agricultural land and unprecedented drought and clean water scarcity, it was clear that courage and unity were born out of this shared challenge for survival.
The community of Tokelau came together to build solar infrastructure to power 100% of the country’s energy needs to minimise global emissions.
Developed nations can and must do more to facilitate the clean energy transition. There is a window of time to cost-effectively mitigate this global health and environmental crisis — delays will commit us to irreversible changes to our fundamental natural systems.
The BMJ documents the responsibility of health professionals to advocate for policies that support the transition to renewable energy. 1
Present and future harm to human health and quality of life, from fossil fuel pollution and climate change, will fall to the medical profession to manage.
However, this human toll could be prevented or minimised by the adoption of clean energy sources.
As with smoking and lung cancer, there is also urgent need to highlight the link between fossil fuels and the human impacts of climate change.
As health professionals, we are in a unique position to provide public education regarding what the climate science authorities now call “unequivocal”. 2
Environmental impacts and energy policies are central to our work — without a healthy environment there cannot be a healthy population.
Human health and wellbeing rely on a sustainable, stable environment for clean air, food and water security and a tolerable climate.
As the delicately balanced climate system and ecosystems are disrupted with continued fossil fuel use, it follows there are significant physical and mental health implications which will compound challenges such as poverty and non-communicable diseases.
In spite of the risks, there is enormous potential and hope.
We can turn climate change into an immense health opportunity.
It could be a key driver for shaping a sustainable, thriving society founded on clean energy, compassion, respect for the environment upon which our health relies and a focus on prevention.
1. Climate change and human survival. BMJ. 2014;348:g2510
This article was first published in the Medical Observer on 25 November 2014