In the new report Investing in Health, published by Climate & Health Alliance in collaboration with Doctors for the Environment Australia, they explain how climate change is affecting the stability of public health in regions across Australia, and call for a stop in fossil fuel investments, this doesn't just apply to Australia however.
Fossil fuels directly damage human health at all stages of the supply chain; from deteriorating air quality during extraction, processing, and combustion-to the emissions of our carbon-dependant sectors like transportation or agriculture. The health risks associated with the burning of fossil fuels covers an extensive range of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, premature mortality, cancers, and strokes; the list goes on. The combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and "natural" gas) does not only directly harm human heath through illnesses and diseases, but also accelerates the adverse effects of climate change.
Like many regions across Europe, Australia faces particular vulnerability to heat-related threats, such as the heat waves of 2009 and 2014 that caused a spike in the number of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Victoria. As a result from the significant rise in temperatures, there was also an increase in cases of domestic violence, demonstrating how such environmental conditions put great pressure on communities. Australia is also a case that has seen major loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation caused by climate change. These are impacts that can threaten the physical and mental health of communities, since peoples’ health depends on the functionality of their ecosystems for food production, tourism, leisure, and the regulation of infectious diseases amongst many other ecosystem-related services.
These are only a few examples affecting regions across Australia today that demonstrate the extent of the relationship between climate change and health. It goes beyond the burden it places on our health systems, beyond the contamination of our water supplies, and past the spread of diseases. It is a relationship so intertwined that we may not initially perceive how it is affecting us on a daily basis. Whilst our climate is undoubtedly changing, so may our mental and social stability, our eating habits, tempers, financial priorities, and countless other social, psychological, and emotional factors. It is crucial to attempt to understand how the domino effect of climate change works, in order to grasp all the different degrees of influence it is having on our environment, our health, and our daily lives.
Since the scope of the problem is so large, and the problems it is causing are so vast, how do we address all the problems at once? The answer, we already know: Stop burning fossil fuels.
“Divestment is dis-investment: The deliberate movement of money away from a particular asset class. Health bodies have long practised divestment from tobacco, arms, gambling, and alcohol; in the interests of the widely held health dictum ‘first do no harm’, fossil fuels must be added to that list”.1
In Australia, health workers and associations have played a strong advocacy role in the past to take action on external factors that directly impact health; such as the tobacco industry, pushing for national vaccination programs, and promoting the principles of universal health care. The case of the tobacco industry is of particular similarity to that of the fossil fuel industry, in relation to the impacts on human health. A number of Australian health systems have taken a strong stance in pressuring the Australian state governments to stop investing in the tobacco industry, following the logic that tobacco is only harmful and not beneficial to human health. Since climate change is already being defined as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,”1 Australian (and all) health professionals are expected to play the same leading role they have demonstrated in the past, in tackling climate change.
The report Investing in Health focuses on the responsibility of Australian health professionals in guiding financial investment away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. By highlighting the health sectors responsibility to ‘first do no harm’, the report places great expectations on health professionals to lead the way towards low-carbon health systems, and local community resilience.
The relationship between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change is widely understood and recognised as an accurate reality. In parallel, there is little scepticism around the impacts that climate change is having on human health. Therefore, it is indispensable that we increasingly highlight this three way relationship, and that a spotlight is shed on health as the victim in the fight to divest from fossil fuels. The Investing in Health report utilises the case of Australia to outline this relationship with exceptional clarity. It expresses an urgent call for individual health professionals, health organisations, hospitals and healthcare facilities, (and in their case: to the Australian health sector) to stop funding fossil fuel companies and to begin investing in renewable energy.
We, Health Care Without Harm Europe, believes this applies to ALL health systems across the globe, in particular the European Union, and we support the call to stop investing in fossil fuels. The movement towards Environmentally Sustainable Health Systems (ESHS) has already taken off in Europe, with a number of Health Systems already leading the way towards 100% renewable energy.
Region Skåne in Sweden aims to run on 100% renewable energy by 2020, and today they are currently at 72% as they near their goal.2
The RES-Hospitals project existed with the objective of reducing energy consumption of all hospitals across Europe, and to guide them to become self-sufficient through renewable energy sources. The project was made up of over a dozen hospitals working towards this endeavour. Now the project has ended, other healthcare systems should continue the work and apply what was learnt during the project, more about RES-Hospitals Project can be found here.
Health Care Without Harm has also produced and collaborated on a number of publications outlining steps to reduce the climate footprint of the health sector including a collaboration with the World Health Organisation (2009):
We expect to see the European Health Sector, and all health systems around the world following the recommendations of this report, by taking a stronger lead towards addressing climate change, and to stop investing in fossil fuels.
The burning must end, and the health sector must lead the way!
- Ana-Christina Gaeta: Climate, Energy, and Resources Officer.
Preview Image: Sheri Jo via Flickr CC
(1) GCHA, Doctors for the Environment Australia, (2016). Investing in Health. The Australian health professions and fossil fuel divestment. Climate & Health Alliance.