Ethics of Climate Change in Australia
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to life and a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of an individual and their family (United Nations, 1948). Global average temperatures are projected to increase between 1. 4 and 5.
8 °C by the end of this century (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001), and this, in conjunction with the increasing sea level, which, in itself, causes the number of individuals living in coastal areas to be exposed to increasing flooding and storm surges, affects human health.
These affects are mostly brought on by climate change, which, ironically, is being heavily influenced by humans themselves. They can cause illness and fatalities from intense heat, a depleting food supply and also the alterations of infectious diseases. A well-established climate change effect on human health is the influence the climate has on shortages in regional areas. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that about 800 million people are presently malnourished, with almost half of them residing in Africa (WHO, 2002). Malnutrition remains one of the major health crises worldwide.
Food crops are heavily and directly influenced by extreme climate conditions such as droughts, and this then severely impacts the levels of food available for consumption, especially in the remote areas in Africa. This then links back to the issue of undernourishment in Africa, as food is a depleting source in the current climate experienced in this continent. Another human health impact that is supported by climate change is heatwaves. The summer of 2009 was possibly Australia’s hottest heatwave, in which many cities recorded their highest temperature since records began.
On Saturday the 7th of January, Melbourne recorded its highest temperature of 46. 4°C (Cameron, et al, 2009). It was as a result of this heatwave that bushfires broke out all over the state of Victoria, the dry winds and hot air no match for efforts to reduce the fires. These fires ranked in the top ten of bushfires in the world with respect to fatalities (Cameron, et al, 2009). Fatalities in heatwaves can be challenging to measure, as the fatalities generally arise from the worsening of chronic medical conditions as well as direct heat related illness.
These conditions and illnesses are particularly seen in the elderly and frail people. However it is estimated that 374 people were killed in this heatwave (The Victorian Government Department of Human Services, 2009). This is the most prominent recent example of human health as a direct outcome of climate change in Australia. Fatalities and general illnesses caused by heat are directly affected by the variance between the average temperature and high above average temperatures, as opposed to regular and steady escalations in the usual temperature.
This is particularly seen in the beginning of summer when people have not yet adjusted to the higher temperatures. Furthermore, due to the Urban Heat Island Effect, the strongest effect of urbanisation on annual mean surface air temperature trends occurs over the metropolis and large city stations, with corresponding contributions of about 44% and 35% to total warming, respectively (Yang, et al, 2011). As a result of this, and as metropolis regions and population grow; exposure to fatalities and illnesses caused by heat look expected to rise in the future.
Vector-borne diseases are influenced by environmental aspects such as temperature, rainfall, humidity and land-use or vegetation, thus affecting the population and spread of the diseases. Vector-borne disease spread and population alter as the ecosystem around them does, as a result of climate change. An example of this would be that around the equatorial regions of the world, diseases like malaria have been restricted to living in those regions. However, as the global mean temperature increases, those regions may expand in area and the malaria disease would be able to spread over a much larger span.
This spread could also be caused by the constant migration of the human population and their affect on the land they use. The alterations caused by climate change on infectious diseases significantly affect human health. It is majorly severe climatic events that alter the biology of infectious diseases. Because they do not have thermostatic systems, infectious organisms such as protozoa and viruses, and their supplementary vectors, for example mosquitoes and aphids, are affected by variations in temperature, mostly in their survival and reproduction levels. As the temperature increases due to global warming, these organisms have the pportunity to flourish in their environments, and, in under-developed areas such as Africa, this could lead to serious impacts on human health. Also, a connection has been found between the rising occurrences of malaria with simultaneous increasing temperatures from 1968 to 1993 in central Ethiopia (Tulu, 1996). Though populace relocation, resistance to drugs, or efforts to control vectors couldn’t explain this link. As we cannot ignore the evidence, this therefore leads us to believe that the associated increasing temperatures, due to climate change, have caused the increase in malaria in central Ethiopia.
However, despite this, irregularities of highest temperature in the highlands of Kenya have been related to the spread of malaria. However, numerous studies of tendencies in climate and malaria populations in Africa have not discovered a connection to increasing temperatures. This then highlights the significance of incorporating other key causes of the chance of malaria such as disease control efforts, human relocation, a resistance to drugs and also a change in how the land is used.
From this we can see that there are many factors caused by climate change that affect human health. Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that each individual has a right to health and life, it is humans who are ironically causing climate change in the first place. Whether it is the intense heat in heatwaves or the rising spread of vector-borne diseases, in a developed or developing country, humans are increasingly becoming exposed to possibly fatal incidents.