“Health is such a significant but under-recognised aspect of climate change. Our health is dependent on healthy ecosystems. Clean air and water, arable land, healthy natural landscapes. Not the scorched earth we are now living with.”

These are the words of a member of Australia’s Health Panel in response to the Panel’s first survey of 2020.

For the January 2020 survey, Australia’s Health Panel (AHP) asked panellists about their views on the relationship between climate and health. As the effects of climate change begin to affect aspects of Australian life, such as the recent bushfires, it is critical that the community and the health system be able to respond to the increased and changing demands that will be placed on it.

One hundred and thirty-six (136) panellists participated in the survey to share their views on the relationship between Climate Change and Health. Most of the participating panellists were female (74%, n=100) and 68% (n=88) lived in a major city that had a population greater than 250,000. The panellists had a broad breakdown of ages but did skew older than the general Australian population with 78% (n=102) being aged 45 or older.

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Figure 1- Age demographics of panellists who participated in the Climate & Health Survey
Figure 1- Age demographics of panellists who participated in the Climate & Health Survey

Of those who participated, 77% (n=99) believed that climate change can have an impact on their personal health status and a further 16% (n=21) believed that it might be able to impact their personal health status. This indicates that a strong majority of Australian health consumers are aware that the effects of climate change extend beyond specific environmental concerns and could affect their health.

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Figure 2- Response to question "Do you believe that climate change can have an impact on your personal health status?"
Figure 2- Response to question "Do you believe that climate change can have an impact on your personal health status?"

Interestingly when asked if they thought that the broader Australian community believed that climate change could impact people’s health, the panellists were much less sure. Only 47% (n=61) thought that the wider community did believe it, while 36% (n=46) thought that maybe the broader community believed it and 15% (n=19) thought that the broader community did not believe it. This suggests that there is potentially a perception amongst Australians of is a larger degree of uncertainty or disbelief towards climate change and its effects in the broader population than is actually the case.

When asked what climate change effects panellists were worried would impact their health, significant majorities reported that water security and quality (91%, n=116), smoke (88%, n=112), extreme weather events such as drought & floods  (85%, n=108), heat (83%, n=106), food security & quality (82%, n=104) and air pollution (80%, n=102) were areas of concern. In addition, a majority of panellists were concerned about changes in rainfall and weather patterns (72%, n=92), population displacement (66%, n=84) and the spread of infectious diseases (50%, n=64). In fact, of the possibilities listed in our survey every single one of them were areas of concern for half or more of the panellists, indicating that Australians are worried about the broad number of ways that climate change could affect their health.

Table 1- Response to question “What climate change effects are you concerned may have an effect on people's health?"

Answer

Responses

Percentage

Water security and quality

116

91%

Smoke

112

88 %

Extreme weather events (e.g. droughts, floods, storms etc)

108

85%

Heat

106

83%

Food security and quality

104

82%

Air pollution

102

80. %

Changes in rainfall and weather patterns

92

72%

Population displacement

84

66%

Spread of infectious disease(s)

64

50%

Panellists were most concerned about the impacts on respiratory health (89%, n=111), mental health (80%, n=100) and chronic illnesses and conditions (73%, n=91). But a majority of panellists were also concerned about the climate change impacts on medicine and healthcare accessibility (66%, n=83), nutrition (59%, n=74), aged care (58%, n=72), healthcare costs (58%, n=72), allergies (57%, n=71), heart health (55%, n=69) and kids health (54%, n=67). Again, this suggests strong awareness in the population of the large number of potential health impacts of climate change, with every listed option being an area of concern for a majority of panellists.

It should also be noted that given the timing of this AHP, occurring during the 2019-20 bushfire season in Australia, the level of concern about smoke (88%) and the impact on respiratory health (89%) may have been unusually high in the Australian population including the panellists.

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Figure 3- Response to the question "Is the Government doing enough to reduce the impact of climate change on health?"
Figure 3- Response to the question "Is the Government doing enough to reduce the impact of climate change on health?"

A large majority of panellists (81%, n=101) believed that the government was not doing enough to reduce the impact of climate change on health. Only 6% (n=8) believed that they were doing enough, while 9% (n=11) thought they might be and 4% (n=5) did not know. Interestingly a large majority of panellists (79%, n=99) were personally taking steps to reduce the impact of climate change on their own health. But when asked whether they believed there would be the right information or resources to help reduce the impacts of climate change on their health, only 37% (n=47) thought they would be able to. A large portion (44%, n=56) thought that they might be able to find information and resources while 14% (n=18) thought they wouldn’t be able to.

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Figure 4- Response to question "If you wanted to take steps to reduce the impacts of climate change on your health, do you think you could find the information and resources to do so?"
Figure 4- Response to question "If you wanted to take steps to reduce the impacts of climate change on your health, do you think you could find the information and resources to do so?"

Taken together this indicates a strong desire amongst Australians for more action against climate change by both Government and individuals, but a potential lack of knowledge as to what individuals can specifically do. Several panellists also noted that while it may be easy to find information or resources about how they could reduce the impact on their personal health, they would not necessarily have the finances or be in the right geographic location to make the required changes.

In summary, this survey on Australia’s Health Panel suggests that Australians are aware of and concerned by the wide range of potential health effects that climate change may cause. Because of this they want action by both individuals and government to help reduce the impact of climate change. This supports the CHF position of joining the Climate and Health Alliance to further advocate for improved government policy on climate change to benefit the health of all Australians.

“I have never been as disappointed in our Federal Government as I am now from the lack of action on climate change. It's clear they've received numerous warnings along with suggestions for possible action and yet have ignored it all. I'm anxious that the most vulnerable people will be the ones who will be hit hardest as they actually need the most help both to access health in a timely way AND to receive financial assistance.”- A member of Australia’s Health Panel.

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia would like to thank all panellists for giving their time to participate in this survey. Any questions about this survey and its findings can be directed to info@chf.org.au.

Note- as each question in the AHP survey was optional, the number of responses for each question varies across the survey. As such the total ‘n’ for the set of answers of a question may not add up to the same overall number as other questions..