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Carbon pricing is an important public health advance

Economic concerns frame much of the public debate around climate change policy in general and carbon pricing in particular. But these are also critical public health issues.

So what does the health sector think of the carbon tax (explained in some detail at this government website)?

Below is the first in a series of Croakey posts addressing this question.

***

These “first steps” are a welcome investment in health

Michael Moore and Helen Keleher from the Public Health Association of Australia write:

The health impacts of climate change are rarely on the minds of those who are working to introduce a carbon pricing system.  Health takes a back seat while the environmental issues take priority.  However, action by government to address the environmental issues will also assist in addressing the health impacts.

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) understands that the impact of climate change will be even more devastating on those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.   The criticism from Tony Abbott that the system is “socialism masquerading as environmentalism” reflects the efforts of the government to ensure that is does look after the poor.  Health and wealth correlate very strongly as demonstrated by the work of people like Sir Michael Marmot and Wilkinson and Pickett’s Spirit Level.

A carbon pricing system actually begins to address this issue before the health impacts of climate change really begin to impact on poorer members of our community.  It is therefore appropriate for the government to take action to institute structural changes that in turn, will address the determinants of climate change and health.

The PHAA welcomes the efforts made in the package to mitigate against the inequities that are inherent in the system of carbon trading.  Climate change will have a devastating impact on health from changing patterns of vector-borne diseases and heat impact on the elderly and vulnerable, through to food and water security and death and injury from severe weather events.

We also welcome the support from the Greens and the Independents that will assure the passage of the legislation.  No doubt the decision will bring widespread criticism from parts of their constituency.  Some will be arguing that it goes too far while others will be saying it does not go far enough.  The reality is that the Greens and Independents have joined the government in taking a long-term view and they certainly cannot be accused of simply making decisions based on the short-termism of the next election.

There is extensive support from health experts for action on climate change. The Lancet in 2009 emphasised the need for urgent action on climate change while the WHO in its 2009 report, “Protecting health from climate change” called for human health to be at the heart of all environment and development decisions. This included a reminder that human health depends on the natural environment not only for the ‘goods and services’ it provides but that it underpins all economic activity – indeed, the natural environment underpins life itself.

These first steps by the Australian government are the most difficult but they are good beginning. Our community may well require stronger action in the future than the proposed $23 per tonne from next year.  No matter what the system that is adopted now, it may need to be adjusted in the future as community understanding of the impact of climate change become clearer.

The reality is that actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will not only reduce climate risk and environmental harm but will also improve health outcomes and reduce health costs. The package therefore represents an investment in health outcomes as well as the environment.

Action on climate change is about environmental health justice and the right of all people to a safe, healthy, productive and sustainable environment.

• Professor Helen Keleher is president of the PHAA, and Michael Moore is the CEO

Related Posts

Comments 6

  1. Frank Campbell says:

    “Climate change will have a devastating impact on health from changing patterns of vector-borne diseases and heat impact on the elderly and vulnerable, through to food and water security and death and injury from severe weather events.”

    This turgid piece assumes that the carbon tax will mitigate “climate change”.

    It will have no effect whatever on climate. I challenge the authors to say that it will.

    But the carbon tax will discriminate against the remnant industrial working class and the rural poor. Health is indeed inversely correlated with poverty, so we can expect deleterious health effects from the carbon tax. “Compensation”/tax cuts will presumably decrease over time, but the “price on carbon” will increase.

    The tax is only half the story. My party, the Greens, have secured $13 billion for renewable energy. This is a fraud. Current renewables cannot provide baseload power. Most technologies (like Flannery’s geothermal fantasy Geodynamics, which is tanking after ten years of losses) are unproven. Most money will therefore flow to wind and solar, both absurdly expensive and by definition unreliable. Wind turbines produce essentially nothing 80% of the time. Fossil fuel backup is required 24/7.

    If this tsunami of technological stupidity occurs, the effects of “pricing carbon” will be far higher. As always, the health burden will follow the economic burden- on the poor.

    The tragedy is that Greens, the Left and progressives generally are trapped in their own rhetoric. Fear of heresy cripples independent critique.

    Most likely this will empower the Right for a generation. A serious health hazard.

  2. old epictetus says:

    Wind & tidal power, going twenty four hours each day? The wind always seems to be blowing whenever I visit the coast of Victoria. The sun shines a lot on our roofs. Yes we will need fossil fuel for some time, but we need to get a move on with the rest. Insulation, draught proofing, public transport, all add up. And then there is the important health benefit of a reduction in coal use and so air pollution.

    Mrs Thatcher got rid of coal in britain, though for a more sinister reason, and to use gas.
    So maybe Tony will see the light.

  3. Frank Campbell says:

    Old Epictetus: “The wind always seems to be blowing whenever I visit the coast of Victoria.”

    You’ve inadvertently stumbled on one of the more egregious hypocrisies of wind turbine imposition: after ruining one of the great coastal landscapes (Cape Bridgewater), resistance to coastal turbines soon blocked further infestation. The Otway coast for example is protected. In South gippsland the locals threw out their MP and local councils.

    All that did was sacrifice poorer, weaker regions inland. On the coast, turbines might manage 30% of rated capacity. Inland it’s more like 20%. Less wind. No matter. Power comnpanies are forced by law to take spasmodic (therefore useless) wind power regardless. At three times the cost of coal-fired power.

    And since this is a health blog, note that the severe stress caused to neighbours by massive turbines spinning at 270 kph is no joke.

  4. Jenny Haines says:

    All environmental change is going to bring some degree of suffering and the work of Marmot and Wilkinson demonstrates that that suffering is usually greater at the lower end of the social gradient. The challenge for governments is what they are going to do to compensate for that impact and whether the compensation is enough. There is no doubt that the earth is warming. Whether that is caused by human made impacts alone is debatable in my view. But to the extent that we humans are impacting on global warming, if we can do something about it, we should. From a health perspective, we need a lot of work done to plan for the shape of health services over the next century. I know governments tend to only think about the next four years so the next century is definitely a challenge for them, but it must be done if we are to avoid aggravating the effects of climate change by inadequate health services.

  5. George Jones says:

    I’m afraid the research literature does not support you at all:

    See for refutation on malaria: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldselect/ldeconaf/12/12we21.htm

    http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/190_05_020309/rus10887_fm.html
    on Dengue fever.

    and entertaining conclusions on heat effects on mortality:
    “Estimates of the temperature threshold below which cold-related mortality began to increase ranged from 15°C to 29°C; the threshold for heat-related deaths ranged from 16°C to 31°C”.
    at: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/37/5/1121.abstract

    There is no health justification for CO2 emission reduction, I’m afraid.

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