Blazing Heat a Billboard for Climate Health Risk
The New Zealand Climate and Health Council see record temperatures and bushfires in Australia along with blistering temperatures in New Zealand as a wake-up call on climate health risks.
Last week Tasmania experienced its peak temperature since records began and bushfires swept across the island. “Our thoughts are with our neighbouring Australians as they battle through the extreme heat and related bushfires’” says Dr George Laking of the Council. The current heat wave has been described as ‘catastrophic’ and Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pointed the finger at global warming.
Closer to home temperatures in the South of New Zealand hit the mid-30’s last week. As expatriate New Zealand scientist Kevin Trenberth has pointed out, global warming means that all weather events are likely to be increasingly extreme.
“Climate scientists have been telling us for years that one of the major health impacts from climate change in Australasia is likely to be an increase in heat related deaths” says Dr Laking. “During heat waves there is an increase in classical heat illnesses (heat stroke, heat exhaustion) and related conditions – such as dehydration and kidney disease. The elderly and people with chronic medical conditions are particularly at risk” says Dr Laking.
These events come in the wake of a year of extreme weather around the world and a disappointing round of international climate negotiations in Qatar last month. “Governments aren’t going to take leadership on climate change unless the public demands it” says Dr Laking. “It is up to us all to take action - and the good news is there are things we can do - like making more use of bikes, buses and walking in our day to day transport” adds Dr Laking. “These blazing heat conditions are a call to climate action for all of us”.
About climate and health
Climate change is widely recognised by world health authorities and leading medical journals to be the biggest global health threat of the 21st century and this is well-accepted by New Zealand medical professional bodies. Major threats—both direct and indirect—to global health from climate change will occur through water and food insecurity, threats to shelter and human settlements, population displacement and migration, extreme climatic events, changing patterns of disease, risks to security (e.g. war), and loss of economic potential.
Conversely, addressing climate change is an opportunity to improve population health and reduce inequities. In New Zealand, well designed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can bring about substantial health co-benefits including reductions in heart disease, cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, respiratory disease, and motor vehicle injuries, and improvements in mental health. These substantial health gains are possible through strategies such as transport infrastructure redesign to encourage active travel, healthy eating (including reduced red meat and animal fat consumption), and improving home insulation.
Ora Taiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council Key Messages
• Climate change is a real and urgent threat to the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.
• New Zealand must be an active partner in global cooperation to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions to 350ppm CO2‐equivalents by:
- rapidly halving our own emissions by 2020;
- paying our fair share of international investment in a global future.
• New Zealand can, and must, respond to climate change in ways that improve population health, accord with Te Tiriti o Waitangi, create a more equitable, just and resilient society, and promote a healthier economy within ecological resource limits.
OraTaiao: The NZ Climate & Health Council are senior doctors and other health professionals concerned with climate change as a serious public health threat.
Dr George Laking, Specialist Physician
Dr Rhys Jones, Public Health Medicine Specialist, Co‐convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.