The Queensland state government in Australia is to fund a new program to help combat killer heatwaves and outbreaks of disease caused by climate change. Authorities are even discussing imposing tobacco-style taxes against carbon polluters. The initiative comes as the United Nation chief warned that if the world does not take serious action by 2020, it risks the fallout from “runaway climate change.”
The plan to tackle climate-related disease and deaths from heatwaves is part of the Queensland government's efforts to cut the state’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
The strategy urges bureaucrats and executives to consider health impacts when assessing mining and energy projects. It also encourages the government not to subsidize “activities harmful to health and climate stability”.
It identifies heat stress among children and the elderly as the main concern for the future. Heatwaves are Australia’s biggest natural hazard, killing more people than droughts, floods and bush fires put together.
Other climate-driven health fears are "food and water insecurity, malnutrition, worsening [and] cardiovascular and respiratory” illnesses.
Fiona Armstrong, the head of the Climate and Health Alliance, which helped draw up the plan, said wild conditions can kill.
“You only need to look at the example of thunderstorm asthma in Melbourne a couple of years ago to see how these kinds of events, even though they might be predicted, can really take the sector and the community by surprise,” Armstrong said.
Thunderstorm asthma can be triggered when storms play havoc with pollen, causing potentially fatal respiratory problems.
The Queensland plan also identifies the increased risk of mental illness among those affected by a worsening drought that has gripped much of eastern Australia, including much of Queensland and the entire state of New South Wales.
Queensland farmer Sid Plant said federal authorities are not doing enough.
“Politicians do not seem to want to recognize that climate change is affecting Australia’s farmers. We are feeling the pain as early as anybody in the world. We are not living in the same climate that we were 20 years ago or 50 years ago,” said Plant.
Forecasters say southeastern Australia can expect more unusually warm and dry conditions in the coming months.
Some Australians doubt man’s influence on the climate, insisting that a shifting climate is part of a natural cycle. However, that remains a minority view.