We instinctively know we function better when we’re healthy, when we have hope for the future. When we feel a sense of control over our lives we show courage in the face of adversity – we feel empowered. The converse is also true, when we feel disempowered, when life feels hopeless, depression increases throughout communities.
Most people think of climate change as a purely environmental issue. But it affects more than the environment. In itself, even without being personally impacted by an extreme climate change event, knowledge about the devastating effects of extreme weather and environmental degradation can lead to depression.
Climate change also affects the fundamental requirements for health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.
As people in bushfire prone areas are aware, extreme heat can lead to devastating bushfires, resulting in deaths, higher pollution levels and asthma attacks as well as long term impacts as a result of trauma for those impacted directly and indirectly. Heatwaves affect health in a variety of ways - by triggering heart attacks, strokes, accidents and heat exhaustion – all potentially requiring hospitalisation. Vulnerable people such as the very young and elderly may die. High temperatures can also lead to increased pollutants in the air that afffect those with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases including asthma.
Increasing drought leads to food and water shortages. Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are likely to lead to further malnutrition in many countries.
Floods can cause drownings and physical injuries, damage homes, businesses and infrastructure and disrupt all services including the supply of medical and health services. The economy is affected by lost work and school days, population displacement and disruption of transportation leading to food and fresh water shortages.
Floods contaminate freshwater supplies. Gastroenteritis and waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid outbreaks could also become more common because warmer temperatures would make it easier for bacteria to multiply in food and contaminated water after infrastructure has broken down due to flooding.
|Residents in Townsville QLD were warned to preserve drinking water|
after the devastation of Cyclone Yasi.
Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, farms, businesses, medical facilities and other essential services. More than half of the world's population lives within 60 km of the sea. People will be forced to move, which in turn heightens the risk of a range of health effects, from emotional distress to coming into contact with new diseases.
|Food prices skyrocket and seaside communities are devastated|
after extreme weather events worldwide.
The health of the world’s people depends on truly sustainable development. This will ideally incorporate all areas of human activity and include our interactions with land, ocean and atmospheric environments to ensure that they, and we, are reslilient in the face of increasing pressure to use them with little regard for the outcomes.
Social, economic, public health and environmental needs must all be addressed in order to fully achieve sustainable progress - at local, national, regional and international levels. Policy makers, scientists, stakeholders, (including big business) and the wider public must learn to work together if we are to transition successfully through this period of climate change.
Last year I wrote about Harassment and Health for H in my theme on workplace bullying. Here.