Introduction by Croakey: At a news conference on 1 March, the Prime Minister spent about 1,600 words explaining how his Government was responding to the catastrophic floods that are causing so much devastation across Queensland and New South Wales. The Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton, delivered almost 600 words on the topic.
But neither leader so much as mentioned the words ‘climate change’, much less the reports released this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Dr John Van Der Kallen, the Chair of Doctors for the Environment Australia, a rheumatologist who has worked in Newcastle for over 20 years, fills in some gaps.
John Van Der Kallen writes:
This week’s release of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report coinciding with the floods in Queensland and New South Wales has reminded us of the urgency that we need to take to protect ourselves against the health impacts of climate change.
Already we are seeing significant health impacts with 3,000 deaths per year from heat-related illness in Australia and this is expected to worsen. Tragically, we have had nine deaths from flood related emergencies this week alone in Queensland and a further four deaths reported so far in News South Wales.
GPs and members of Doctors for the Environment will be at the forefront of the clean up as they try to support their patients who may have lost everything in the disaster, including their loved ones.
This is not something doctors look forward to in their work. It is emotionally confronting and taxing for all GP’s dealing with their patient’s losses. How can we help? What can we do to lessen the burden on those faced with the clean-up and for those who lost loved ones and pets, their grief?
There are no easy answers to these questions and much of what we have to offer is only hope and human resilience in the face of disaster; however, we will be doing what we can to support our patients.
But one way Australian leaders and governments can help is to protect our environment and speed up how we address climate change in our policies and legislation.
We are now seeing that climate change and the burning of fossil fuels are affecting our everyday health. Australia needs to take a lead. Unlike most OECD countries, Australia has not increased its 2030 emission reduction targets.
Despite recent Federal Government information, Australia is not doing enough to reduce its emissions. Recent years have seen a slowdown in emission reductions. From 2007 to 2014 there was a 15.2 percent decline in Australia’s emission but from 2014 to 2021 there was only an 8.9 percent decline.
Most of this decline came due to a decrease in deforestation rather than the structural changes which are needed to allow Australia to reach zero emissions. Over the last 12 months there has been an increase in emissions from transport, agriculture, and our export industries, especially LNG.
Flooding, drought, and bushfires are increasing the challenges for our farmers to provide food security. Our frontline emergency responders have been highlighting the impacts of climate change for years and are frustrated by the lack of action on climate change.
However, stock lost to flooding hampers everyone’s food security along with the farmers’ ability to make a living. Disasters such as this current one we are witnessing live on our television screens are costing Australia $8.8 billion a year in losses and recovery. Torrential rain, severe flooding, thousands of schools closed, tens of thousands of homes and businesses without power, and lives lost.
The burning of coal, oil and gas are the worst causes of climate damage. And now the people of Brisbane are being asked to pay again for this lack of action on global warming.
The risks of inaction are significant. Insurance premiums are already rising or no longer available for people living in flood prone areas.
The opportunities for Australia are immense. We could lead the world in transforming to a low carbon economy. Not only will we improve our own society, but we can show a pathway for other countries to follow.
Australia’s reputation and status will improve. Fossil fuels are a dead end – for the planet, for our health and for our economies. Every action and every decision matters. We have a choice and now is the time to tell our politicians that we want a safer future.Watch the Twitter video with Dr John Van Der Kallen.
John Van Der Kallen is the National Chair of Doctors for the Environment Australia. He is a rheumatologist who has worked in Newcastle for over 20 years. He is passionate about the environment and the health impacts of the environment on our health. He is extremely concerned about worsening global warming and the lack of action by governments to mitigate against climate change. Equally important is the loss of biodiversity and extinction event that we are now experiencing. Our health will only worsen unless these issues are addressed. John was born in Sydney. His parents immigrated from the Netherlands and ran a Dutch restaurant. He completed his medical degree at the University of NSW and did much of his training in rural NSW. He is a director of Newcastle Bone Density and Seven Generations Forestry. He is actively involved in improving biodiversity and carbon sequestration projects.
See Croakey’s extensive archive of stories on climate and health.