The Climate Council reported on January 21 that deaths by heat are increasing, while our governments continue to overlook the plight of Australian people at the forefront of impact by climate change.
In 2018-19 Alice Springs residents battled for 55 days in above 40C temperatures. The 2019-20 bushfires are indelibly imprinted in countless memories, and this summer Western Australians have suffered through the most searing, prolonged temperatures on record, again with drastic bushfires. Yet the federal government, whose main job it is to protect the safety and well-being of Australian people, stubbornly persists with a gas-led economy, funds new fossil fuel projects, and trashes international climate negotiations while spouting about how well they are doing - as leaders of the worst globally performing country on climate action.
While heat-related deaths are thought to be well under-reported, the World Health Organisation estimates that climate change is currently responsible for approximately 150,000 deaths a year. Research shows that heatwaves are responsible for more Australian deaths than all other extreme weather events together, and that over 36,000 Australians died from extreme heat in the decade from 2006 to 2017.
While we have yet to see details come out about the Western Australian disasters, Australian doctors are now calling for heat to be recorded on death certificates, to enable a more accurate estimate of heat impacts on Australian lives.
One Canadian doctor has also set the bar by recording climate change as cause for a patient's admission, noting that heatwave conditions would not have occurred without human-generated global warming.
The good news is that significant public opposition and court rulings are forcing our governments to change their minds on a few highly negative decisions, while private renewable uptake is bringing down energy prices in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.
However it still remains with the Australian people whether we have a government that spends $10.3 billion a year on subsidies for major coal, oil and gas companies, or leaders who will use taxpayer money to ensure a cleaner, healthier and safer future for us all.
- Patricia Edwards
Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , February 2, 2022.