Ora Taio - Health risks of “Hothouse Earth” a disaster

09 Aug 2018 5:21 PM | Anonymous
MEDIA RELEASE

Health risks of “Hothouse Earth” a disaster

A report released this week on the dangers of heading towards “Hothouse Earth” makes it clear that climate change is now a public health emergency.

“Just as we would react to the threat of pandemic, we need to speed up our efforts to tackle emissions and protect health,” says Dr Rhys Jones, Co-convenor of OraTaio: The NZ Climate and Health Council.

The report, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, states, “the Earth System may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing, rapid pathway towards much hotter conditions — Hothouse Earth.”

“We can’t afford to cross these thresholds into a Hothouse Earth,” says Dr Jones. “A Hothouse Earth would pose impossible risks to our health system and the wellbeing of people everywhere.”

“As health professionals, we urge the government to make stronger and more immediate targets to ensure New Zealand’s emissions decrease to net zero by 2040. We must base our decisions on climate science to make sure we do not breach dangerous tipping points. In order for us to safely reach zero emissions by 2040, much of the action is needed in the next crucial five to ten years.”

“The measures we take to reduce New Zealand's contribution to global warming can directly benefit the health of all New Zealanders. Well-designed climate action can bring about reductions in cardiovascular and respiratory disease, cancers, obesity, food insecurity and child poverty, as well as easing the financial pressures on the health sector.”

“The health risks of a Hothouse Earth mean that we must treat climate change as a public health emergency,” says Dr Jones.

ENDS

Media Spokesperson: Dr Rhys Jones, 021 411 743

Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) (rg.jones@auckland.ac.nz) is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, and Co-convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council.

OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council is an organisation of health professionals concerned with climate change as a serious public health threat. The Council also promotes the positive health gains that can be achieved through action to address climate change. See: www.orataiao.org.nz

Study published 6 August 2018 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA

 

About Climate Change and Health Information is available in the following paper from the 2014 NZ Medical Journal: 
‘Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action’. http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/read-the-journal/all-issues/2010-2019/2014/vol-127-no-1406/6366  

Health threats from climate changes include: worsening illness and injury from heat and other extreme weather, changing patterns of infection including food poisoning, loss of seafood and farming livelihoods, food price rises and mass migration from the Pacific. Those on low incomes, Māori, Pacific people, children and older people will be hit first and hardest, but nobody will be immune to the widespread health and social threats of unchecked climate change. Direct and indirect climate change impacts are already being seen here from warming oceans and sea level rise.

Health opportunities from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, easing pressure on health budgets include: rapidly phasing out coal; switching from car trips to more walking, cycling and public transport; healthier diets lower in red meat and dairy; and energy efficient, warm homes will all cut emissions while also reducing the diseases that kill New Zealanders most and put our children in hospital – cancer, heart disease, lung diseases and car crash injuries.

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Letter to the Listener 28 July 2017 in response to Fever Pitch (Listener 21 July 2017)

Catherine Woulfe’s thorough investigation of rheumatic fever brings to the surface a range of important questions not only about this cruel disease, but also wider issues about health policy. The Government’s bold initiative to reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever as one of its 'Better Public Service' targets in 2012 certainly raised awareness of rheumatic fever for the general public as well as communities and families directly affected. But even when medical science and the public have a clearer understanding of the immediate causes of rheumatic fever, interventions like the $65m ‘sore throats matter’ still won’t stop the epidemic. 

Ramona Tiatia’s blunt description of the experience of affected families not only painted a picture of the impact on affected families and communities, it also highlighted the invidious choices our health funders face.  How much should we prioritise health spending between response to the urgent need of young people whose lives and potential can be devastated by the disease versus the expense of addressing the economic and social factors that underlie the reasons we have this epidemic at all?   

As several of the clinicians interviewed pointed out, it’s only when the poverty and over-crowded housing issues are addressed that we will make a real difference.

Rheumatic fever illustrates the contradictions in our health system identified in the recent American Commonwealth Fund report. Of the 11 countries the Fund monitors, the work our health professionals do is ranked among the highest. But our overall performance as a health system falls to the middle ranking because of our poor performance on access and equity. The Fund also notes that our per capita expenditure is among the cheapest. 

Failure to invest in real prevention - that is, poverty, housing, good nutrition etc. - will continue to drive conditions like rheumatic fever, whether the immediate cause is strep throat or skin sores, until we invest upstream.

Why not spend more on these conditions - the economic and social determinants of health? 

We all pay in the long run - the young people whose misery we tolerate and whose potential remains unfulfilled, the families whose sacrifices are unrewarded, and the taxpayer who picks up the tab.

Ngā mihi,
Warren Lindberg

CE Public Health Association of New Zealand

                                            

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