Climate change affects the health of people in many ways that are already being seen in areas around the world. CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research) and the Bureau of Meteorology have recorded the following changes in Australia. Average temperatures are hotter than they were in 1910, rainfall has decreased in southern areas of Australia and fires have become more common. It is expected that temperatures will rise further and that rainfall will decrease further. The predictions include more frequent and severe extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, cyclones, storms, fires and heatwaves.
Climate change affects crop production through the changes in CO2 levels, temperature, rainfall and increase in the frequency of extreme weather. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere usually increases the growth rate of plants; but the expected increase in growth is not matched in crops such as wheat. Increases in temperature cause increased water demand of the plants which may cause further difficulties in Australia because of decreasing rainfall. A change in temperature and rainfall can also promote the spread and increase the range of pests, weeds and diseases that decrease crop production. Flooding and drought can also cause the loss of crops. These effects have already been seen in many part of the world, decreasing the production of food. As climate change is predicted to continue affecting Australia it can be expected that crops will be more affected within Australia as well.
The access and affordability of fresh food has already contributed a difference in health outcomes between groups in Australia. A study found that the price of fresh food in remote and very remote areas was higher than in metropolitan areas. More of the remote areas had lower quality produce as well as higher prices. The combination of higher price and lower quality will impact on the amount of fresh food purchased and may therefore lead to unhealthier diets of people in these areas. The consumption of food high in fat and sugar and lacking in fruit and vegetables leads to increased risk of lifestyle diseases such as obesity and heart disease. People living in remote areas or who are of low socioeconomic status have higher rates of death and hospitalisation due to cardiovascular disease than people living in metropolitan areas or who are of higher socioeconomic status. If climate change continues to affect Australia it is possible that the price of fresh food will rise because of increased difficulty in growing and maintaining crops, the availability of fresh food would also decrease. This rise in price and decrease in availability could cause more and more people to turn to less healthy alternatives out of necessity, as is already seen in some areas of Australia, and many more people will be at increased risk of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
It should be a priority of everyone who lives in Australia as well as the government to prevent or at least slow down the progression of climate change for the benefit of everyone. There are many small things that can be done by people every day, such as turning off lights when leaving a room, to decrease Australia’s carbon emissions and preserve our climate and country as much as possible.
For more information about climate change in Australia
– Health Impacts of Climate Change: Adaptation Strategies for Western Australia [Internet]. Canberra, Government of Western Australia Department of Health; 2008 [cited 2015 Mar 13]. Available from: http://www.public.health.wa.gov.au/cproot/1510/2/Health_Impacts_of_Climate_Change.pdf
– Geographic factors as determinants of food security: A Western Australian food pricing and quality study. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2015 Mar 12]; 23(4)703-713. Availability: http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=874809183741436;res=IELAPA
– Heart Foundation (AU). Data and Statistics. Deakin, ACT (Australia): [cited 2015 Mar 12]. Available from: http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/information-for-professionals/data-and-statistics/Pages/default.aspx
– Climate change in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO [cited Mar 12]. Available from: http://www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au/en/
– Effects of temperature increase and elevated CO2 concentration, with supplemental irrigation, on the yield of rain-fed spring wheat in a semiarid region of China. Agricultural Water Management [Internet]. 2005 [cited 2015 Mar 13]; 74(3):243-255. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378377404003245
– What have we learned from 15 years of free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE)? A meta-analytic review of the responses of photosynthesis, canopy properties and plant production to rising CO2. New Phytologist [Internet]. 2004 [cited Mar 13]; 165(2):351-372. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8137.2004.01224.x/full
– Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events; Implications for Food Production, Plant Diseases, and Pests. Global Change and Human Health [Internet]. 2001 [cited 2015 Mar 13]; 2(2):90-104. Available from : http://download.springer.com.ezproxy.library.uwa.edu.au/static/pdf/505/art%253A10.1023%252FA%253A1015086831467.pdf?auth66=1426219281_6cc966cdfdb482f7ffff6c4a55e8e85c&ext=.pdf