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Leading Australian medical body declares climate change a health emergency

Rich Bowden

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Scott Morrison

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has described the current climate crisis as a “health emergency.” AMA President Dr. Tony Bartone said the association had agreed to make the declaration in its August Canberra meeting. 

“The AMA accepts the scientific evidence on climate change and its impact on human health and human wellbeing,” Bartone said in a September 3rd press statement.

“The scientific reality is that climate change affects health and wellbeing by increasing the situations in which infectious diseases can be transmitted, and through more extreme weather events, particularly heatwaves,” he added.

Climate emergency will have many negative outcomes if unchecked

The Association said the climate crisis will cause a higher number of deaths from heat stress; more injury and deaths related to severe weather events and an increase in the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases.

The AMA also added food insecurity will rise throughout the world as agricultural output declines due to climate change. It said the world can also expect a higher incidence of mental health problems as a result of the crisis.

“These effects are already being observed internationally and in Australia. There is no doubt that climate change is a health emergency,” Bartone said. “The AMA is proud to join the international and local chorus of voices urging action to address climate change on health grounds.” 

Doctors call on the government to bring in changes

The AMA has called on the Australian government to introduce several changes to reduce the effects of climate change. These include adopting mitigation targets; promoting the health benefits of addressing the climate emergency; developing a National Strategy for Health and Climate Change; supporting the move towards a renewable energy economy and reducing carbon emissions in the healthcare economy.

The AMA’s declaration follows on from an open letter submitted in April 2019 by a group of Australian health and medical associations. They include Doctors for the Environment, the Climate and Health Alliance, the Royal Australian College of Physicians, and the Australian Medical Students’ Association. The letter told all political parties of  the “significant and profound impacts climate change has on the health of people and our health system.”

In making the declaration, the AMA joins other international health organizations in calling for urgent climate action.

The Australian conservative government has come under heavy criticism for its lack of action of addressing the climate emergency. Latest government figures show the country’s carbon emissions to have risen in the year to March.

Sustainability

PG&E Will Pay $13.5 Billion In Damages For Camp Fire And Three Other Wildfires It Started

Maddie Blaauw

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This past week, Pacific Gas and Electric reached a $13.5 billion settlement for the four fires the company started, including the PG&E Camp Fire. A portion of this will go to victims of the fires. Another part is for rebuilding infrastructure damaged by the fire. PG&E estimates that the damage it caused totals over $30 billion. However, by declaring bankruptcy, the electricity provider hopes to settle all claims with a lower payment.

Compensation for Four Separate Fires, Including the PG&E Camp Fire

PG&E claims that the $13.5 billion dollars will be retribution for four fires in the last ten years: the PG&E Camp Fire of 2018, the Tubbs Fire of 2017, the Butte Fire on 2015, and the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland in 2016. 

While some of these cases are still in court to determine the legal liability of PG&E, the reason that the company has opened up to a $13.5 billion settlement is because it believes that it will be found guilty, and hopes to pay less this way.

PG&E’s bankruptcy puts it in danger of having the state take over. Additionally, the federal government convicted PG&E of six felonies after a gas pipeline explosion in 2010. The company remains on probation because of this event.

Many agree that this PG&E settlement is the company trying to calm survivors of the fires, while not raising any more regulation from either federal or state governments

The PG&E Camp Fire and Others Could Have Been Prevented

The PG&E Camp Fire currently holds records as the deadliest and the most destructive wildfire in California history. The damages from it totaled an estimated $16.5 billion. The fire destroyed 18,804 buildings.

Flames scorched 153,336 acres of land that was home to both people and California’s beautiful forests and wildlife.  And perhaps the most painful number of all is the total deaths. 85 people died in an event that was ultimately preventable with proper power line care and maintenance. 

The Tubbs Fire in 2017 held the records that the Camp Fire broke. It was the most destructive wildfire in Californian history at the time, but no longer holds that title.

The Wildfires Caused Severe Damages

Damages caused by the fire total $1.3 billion, in 2017 USD. The Tubbs Fire destroyed an estimated 5643 structures, and destroyed 36,807 acres of nature and civilization. 22 people died. 

The Butte Fire in 2015, though not as costly as the Camp Fire, still burned about half as much land. The lower cost is likely due to a lower concentration of homes and towns on the land.

However, this means that the fire burned through more natural habitat and oxygen-producing trees. The damages cost about $2 billion, and 863 buildings burned, supporting the former claim.

Fatalities Occurred

The fatalities caused by the Butte Fire were the lowest of the four the company is addressing. Two people died. Nonetheless, it is painful to know that these two deaths could have been prevented.

Finally, the Ghost Ship Fire, which took place in a warehouse in Oakland in 2016, caused 36 fatalities. The people were trapped inside the building and the blaze prevented firefighters from getting to them. 

So in total, land burned by these four fires alone totals 126,479 acres. That’s nearly 200 square miles. Undoubtedly, though, of the greatest importance is the death toll of 145 lives.

So it’s understandable that many would be enraged by the lowering of the PG&E settlement from $30 billion to $13.5 billion.

Knowing, Yet Doing Nothing

PG&E cited in reports of the events that lead to the fires that the company had previously observed, but not fixed, many of the causes.

For example, both the company and the California Fire Department have stated that the cause of the PG&E Camp Fire was dry vegetation around the transmission lines.

The transmission lines were neither upkept nor equipped well enough to handle the hot, dry summer that California saw in 2018, even though climate scientists had predicted that the lengths of droughts and the temperatures of the summer months would increase. 

PG&E ignored the conclusions of these scientists instead of treating power lines to withstand such changes. 

Politicians Outraged By Company Response to PG&E Camp Fire and More

The Californian governor is enraged by the inactivity of the company. Many in the state’s government are also upset with the lack of improvements to deal with the reality that climate change is bringing to the state.

In May of 2019, he stated, “All should be mindful of PG&E’s history of over two decades of mismanagement, misconduct and failed efforts to improve a woeful safety culture… [PG&E] has not demonstrated that it understands the gravity and urgency of the situation.” 

Overall, the utility has failed the communities that it serves on two fronts: inadequate inspection of power lines, and lack of action to fix a hazard found during the inadequate inspection of power lines.

By confronting these two problems and becoming more efficient in these two areas, the company could have arguably prevented every single fire that it hopes to address in the $13.5 billion PG&E settlement.

We Can’t Keep Ignoring These Wildfires

The effects of climate change are real and are having real, quantifiable impacts on the country.

Companies that have been profiting while ignoring climate change need to step up and address potential causes of tragedy before changes in the weather escalate the small, fixable item into a forest fire that kills 85.

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Sustainability

Latest IUCN Report Shows Ocean Deoxygenation Is Happening At An Alarming Rate

Haider Sarwar

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While many people don’t personally witness the ramifications of climate change, marine life is starting to take a serious toll due to ocean deoxygenation. Today, more than 700 oceanic sites are suffering from oxygen loss. In comparison, ocean deoxygenation only affected 45 sites in the 1960s.

That’s not to mention ocean deoxygenation will even more greatly impact marine ecosystems with the most biodiversity. This immense increase in anoxic oceans has led to a bleak outlook on the future of our oceans. What does it all mean for marine life?

What The IUCN Report Says About Ocean Deoxygenation

A study that began in 2000, the IUCN released a report just yesterday named Ocean Deoxygenation: Everyone’s Problem. The title alone draws heavy focus to the underrepresented deoxygenation of the oceans.

More specifically, the carbon emissions that humans primarily create have led to reduced levels of oxygen in oceans.

Not just greenhouse gases, nutrient run-off from agriculture also decreases oxygen. Chemicals from everyday life pollute the sea every day and lead to eutrophication.

IUCN’s report indicated that climate change is affecting the most biodiverse regions of the ocean. Moreover, the deoxygenation will disrupt “basic processes.” This means that deoxygenation is disrupting the cycle of life and predator/prey relationships.

It’s a big problem because it could lead to the endangering of some species and overpopulation of other species.

Unfortunately, the researchers estimated that the oceans would lose 4% of its oxygen worldwide by 2100. Furthermore, they recommended that world leaders and politicians pay more attention to this growing problem.

The report noted that even with corrective actions, a lot of the damage done might be irreversible.

What Ocean Deoxygenation Means For Marine Life

Ocean deoxygenation will primarily affect areas with high biodiversity. That is, it’s driving all of the high-energy fish to shallower waters. This is because the deeper parts of the ocean are starving for oxygen.

The high-energy consuming fish, the tuna and sharks of the ocean, will have higher chances of being overfished.

While the population of the fish that we depend on dwindles, the jellyfish and microbes that stay in the deeper parts will flourish.

Mainly because their predators have fled for more oxygenated areas, the overpopulation of these microbes will occur. “If we run out of oxygen it will mean habitat loss and biodiversity loss and a slippery slope down to slime and more jellyfish,” said Minna Epps from IUCN.

It’s Everyone’s Problem To Solve

The effects of climate change are now a reality. The bleak report put out by IUCN illustrates the overarching problems and what can be done.

While corrective methods may prove to be less than efficient, an attempt must be made. Climate change won’t just stop at our oceans; it’ll affect every part of nature. Ocean deoxygenation is everyone’s problem to solve.

And the least we can do is not pollute our oceans.

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Sustainability

Bad Move: 31 States Significantly Reduce Funding To Environmental Protection Efforts

Avery Maloto

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Environmental protection has been a hot button issue for decades. Fortunately, today’s younger generation seems to be expressing more dedication to climate change reform. However, while younger adults strive for change, the government does not seem to match the public’s efforts. Instead, state governments are rolling back many regulations that support environmental protection. 

In the last ten years, several states have collectively cut 4,400 job positions at agencies that are responsible for environmental protection.

Study Shows Drastic Budget Cuts To Environmental Protection Efforts

In a recent study published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), analysts underscored the economical behavior of state agencies that strive to protect public health and the environment from all forms of pollution. Their discoveries were shocking.

From 2008 to 2018, EIP found that 31 states reduced funding for pollution control programs through their local environmental agencies. As a result, half of U.S. states were subject to budget cuts of at least 10 percent. 

Out of these, Wisconsin experienced the largest reduction of 36% of funding for its environmental agency. Closely following are Texas and Louisiana with a reduction of 35% and North Carolina with a reduction of 34%. 

Unfortunately, the losses do not stop there. On top of the rollbacks of funding, a total of 41 states have reduced their staff population in their respective environmental agencies. 

Illinois suffered the most with a cut of 38% of its environmental staffing. In addition, North Carolina cut 35%, Arizona cut 32%, and Louisiana cut 30% of their respective staffings. 

Why Are Budget Cuts Happening For Environmental Protection?

Surprisingly, these cuts are not necessarily the consequence of a partisan issue. Many Republican states, such as Texas and Louisiana, experienced large losses in environmental funding. However, Democratic states like New York and Illinois suffered as well.

The question then arises, if not for political opinion, why are these changes happening?

One explanation is the possibility that some states simply do not have the money. As noted in the report, federal and state governments play complementary but essential roles in environmental protection.

However, many states nor the EPA have enough funding to do their share. Unfortunately, this results in many of the cuts seen in the workforce.

For Instance, Texas Is Making Huge Reductions

However, Luke Metzger, the Executive Director of Environment Texas, explained another obvious reason: lack of care.

Metzger noted that with “one-third of [Texas] waterways unsafe for fishing and swimming and two-thirds of Texans living in areas with unsafe air quality, Texas has major environmental problems”.

However, he continues to note that “instead of meeting this challenge, [Texas] legislature is de-prioritizing the environment and public health”.

Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state de-prioritizing the issue.

In 2011, an EPA Inspector General report found that Louisiana had the worst enforcement of environmental laws in the country. In addition, North Carolina cut $136 million in 2008, a time when overall state spending increased.

Where Do These Decisions Leave Us?

Unfortunately, environmentalists and policy experts warn that state-level cuts are only the beginning. Following the trend, many foresee similar budget cuts in federal spending in the near future.

This would entail a larger slash in funding than the 16% already lost by the EPA between 2008 and 2018.

The truth is, there is no silver lining on these actions. To say in simpler terms, cuts to state environmental agencies are attacks on the quality of life across the country.

By stripping the allotted budget away from environmental protection, public health may very well deteriorate over time. Whether through the lack of spending or sheer apathy, the health of families, forests, and waterways are put in jeopardy by pollution.

Not only do we not want that for ourselves, but for the sake of future generations, something needs to change.

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