Human health at risk as climate-related fires rage

8 February 2022

As fires threaten lives across huge swathes of WA and floods disrupt food deliveries, doctors are urging state and federal governments to take urgent action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

“West Australians have faced a triple whammy of fires, heatwaves and food insecurity this summer,” says Doctors for the Environment Australia member Dr Richard Yin. “Life with Covid has been unsettling enough, and the fires have added another level of uncertainty.”

“This is a looming crisis, and we need governments to recognise that and act immediately. All too often we hear politicians talk about the cost of climate action. What about the cost of inaction?”

“More frequent, prolonged, and severe heatwaves, bushfires, droughts, and disruption to vital infrastructure from storms and floods are all predicted with a warming climate. What we’re experiencing now has occurred with just 1°C of warming. The trajectory is clear, and it will have devastating outcomes.”

Responding to multiple large fires, against a backdrop of heatwaves and drought with disruption to infrastructure can stretch emergency services to their limit.

And Dr Yin says the psychological impacts of heatwaves, bushfires and floods are consistently underestimated.

“The impacts of bushfires both physically and psychologically can be profound and long-lasting. To care for our climate is to care for human health.”

Doctors for the Environment WA Chair Dr Emma-Leigh Synnott says the group is calling on governments to adopt ambitious plans to cut emissions this decade, ban new coal, gas and oil projects and provide greater support for renewable energy.

“As health professionals, we urge all parties and candidates in the next federal election to commit to act on climate change for the sake of human health.”