Resources Lesson 5: What Can We Do About Climate Change?

What can we do about climate change?

Frumkin and colleagues, in Climate Change: The Public Health Response, a number of years ago suggested the need for a Public Health response and their abstract states: "There is scientific consensus that the global climate is changing, with rising surface temperatures, melting ice and snow, rising sea levels, and increasing climate variability. These changes are expected to have substantial impacts on human health. There are known, effective public health responses for many of these impacts, but the scope, timeline, and complexity of climate change are unprecedented. We propose a public health approach to climate change, based on the essential public health services, that extends to both clinical and population health services and emphasizes the coordination of government agencies (federal, state, and local), academia, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations." Most communities await the development of such a response.

A very long, but comprehensive paper 'Managing the health effects of climate change' from a Lancet/UCL collaboration can be accessed by clicking here. It has many references to the developing world, and part of the Executive summary is as follows: "The ability of health systems to respond effectively to direct and indirect health effects of climate change is a key challenge worldwide, especially in many low-income and middle-income countries that suffer from dis-organised, inefficient, and under-resourced health systems. For many countries, more investment and resources for health systems strengthening will be required. Climate change threats to health also highlight the vital requirement for improved stewardship, population-based planning, and the effective and efficient management of scarce resources. Recommendations on management of the health effects of climate change are listed at the end of this report." You can access the full report free of charge, but have to register with the Lancet to do this.

In Australia, a "Framework for a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being for Australia provides a roadmap to support the Commonwealth Government in taking a leadership role in protecting the health and well-being of Australian communities from climate change, and in fulfilling its international obligations under the Paris Agreement." The executive summary includes the statement: "The Framework does not only imply actions and strategies for the health portfolio and sector; in recognition of the systemic and complex nature of climate change, and the fact that the determinants of health and well-being lie largely outside the health sector, it prescribes policy directions for a range of portfolios, including energy, climate, environment, transport, and infrastructure. It includes actions for federal, state, and local government, for research institutions, and for the health sector itself."

Looking more broadly at action that individuals can take about climate change, here are some ideas:

  • Change personal habits: switch to low carbon lifestyle - energy, transport, food etc (see Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems for example). Climate change and the people’s health: the need to exit the consumptagenic system advocates the: "...need to disrupt the consumptagenic system that encourages and rewards the exploitation of natural resources, excess production, and hyperconsumerism, and which results in climate change and health inequities. Future policy action and advocacy must focus on the operation of the consumptagenic system."
  • Disinvest from the mining and the carbon economy - eg banks and superannuation products - and encourage the organisations to which you belong to do the same
  • Advocate - sign petitions, influence peers and family, include in educational programmes, join marches, support organisations that are active
  • Become an activist - 'Blockadia' the climate warriors defined by Naomi Klein in 'This changes everything - capitalism vs the climate' gives many examples of how social activism can effect change.
  • Civil disobedience - see this suggestion that the time has come for civil disobedience. Extinction Rebellion is now a worldwide activist group. The Lancet paper Should health professionals participate in civil disobedience in response to the climate change health emergency? has 5 Criteria for assessing the justifiability of health professionals' civil disobedience
    • There are well justified, evidence-based reasons for believing a policy, law, or state of affairs is what we term significantly unjust, meaning that a policy, law, or state of affairs is unfair to such an extent that civil disobedience is a proportionate response
    • Disobedience is the last resort or any political or legal avenues that remain are likely to be fruitless or could result in preventable harm
    • There is a reasonable chance that the civil disobedience action will be effective and that the effectiveness will outweigh possible negative outcomes
    • Any obligation to participate is greater for health professionals whose personal, professional, and sociopolitical circumstances mean that they and those they love and care for are at lesser risk of substantial harm from such actions
  • Vote - for governments that support action on climate change

Please reflect on what you can do locally - research, advocacy, education - the discussion will focus on what you feel is relevant in your setting - if you feel that this is a local priority for you!

Last modified: Sunday, June 6, 2021, 9:50 PM