Fiona Armstrong is a former Senior Research Officer at the ANF, who now convenes the Climate and Health Alliance, a group of health-care stakeholders that advocates for climate change policy to protect public health.
Fiona says nurses have an important role to play in the climate change debate. ‘There is a great need to broaden the policy discussion on climate change in Australia. There are large risks and consequences for public health from climate change,’ she says.
‘Nurses are a large group of stakeholders in the health system and can show leadership on this issue.’
Fiona says there is a lot of justifiable fear around climate change but there are also solid grounds for hope.
‘The science shows clearly that we need to act quickly. We can slow climate change so it is not irreversible. The window is small and reducing but it is still there. It is a massive project but it is one that we must undertake.
‘The good news is that we know about it and we know what we can do. The technology is available and resources are abundant. All that is missing is political will.’
Massive implications for our health system
Fiona says there is little discussion in health policy about the impact of climate change on the health workforce and the health system.
‘We know our health system is under pressure now. Climate change will add to that pressure with more and more severe direct consequences like heatwaves, fires, droughts and storms and indirect consequences like vector-borne diseases, increased pollution and contamination of our marine life and reduced food security.
‘It’s already happening now. In South East Queensland the floods and cyclones show the impact of climate change on the community and health system has already arrived. The chances are that the size and frequency of events like these will become the norm.’
Fiona says there is a positive flip side to action on climate change. ‘There are also opportunities for improving public health. Urgent action on climate change will have many positive health impacts.’
She says a step towards low-carbon living has health benefits that will improve our quality of life by reducing diseases prevalent in rich high-carbon societies – obesity, diabetes and heart disease – and by reducing the effects of carbon pollution.
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