The Human Impacts of Heatwaves & Extreme Weather


Published on

This presentation explores the human impacts, including stress, anxiety and mental illness that arise or are exacerbated by extreme weather events. For more information visit

Published in: Education
No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

The Human Impacts of Heatwaves & Extreme Weather

  1. TheClimateInstitute The Human Impacts of Heatwaves & Extreme Weather 1
  2. Global Review 2012 IntroductionThe Human Impacts of Heatwaves & Extreme Weather ‘The symptoms we see now, in individuals and communities beleaguered by fire, storms, floods and drought, are the early warning signs. There is still time to avoid the human and other costs of global warming blowing out, time to realise the many health and social benefits of action, and so time to restore wellbeing and hope.’ Tony McMichael AO, MB BS, PhD, FAFPHM, FTSE Professor of Population Health and NHMRC Australia Fellow National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health Australian National UniversityThis presentation explores the human impacts, including stress, anxiety and mental illnessthat arise or are exacerbated by extreme weather 2
  3. Global Review 2012 IntroductionIn the last century, Australias average temperature rose by slightly less than one degreeover the preindustrial average.Without concerted action by all countries, including Australia, the world is on a pathto exceeding 4 C by the 2060s.While some further warming is already locked in to the climate system, the worst is stillavoidable. The tasks now are to avoid the unmanageable consequences of full-blownclimate change and, at the same time, manage the unavoidable. This means recognisingthe full human cost of disasters, an early investment in community resilience—strengthening communities’ capacity to recovery, as well proper resourcing of 3
  4. A Continental HeatwaveThe first seven days of 2013 were amongst the top-20 hottest days on recordwith, for the first time, six consecutive days over 39 C.The heatwave is unusual in its continental spread – typical heatwaves affect a regionof Australia, but this one started in Western Australia on 30th December and has rolledthrough the entire country.The Bureau notes that the unusuallyhot, dry conditions have far fromended, with still more records likely to bebroken. Indeed, temperatures forecastfor central Australia are so high that theBureau has been obliged to extend therange on their temperature charts to54 C, adding a new colour to the map. 4
  5. Human health & wellbeingThe Australian climate is inherently Our Creative Fellow, Michaelmoody, but it is becoming more Hall took thishostile, exacting a heavy toll on photograph inpeople’s physical and mental health. Marysville, Victori a after the Black Saturday bushExtreme heat has taken more lives fires in 2009.than any other natural hazard in You can readAustralias 200-year history. more about it on his blog.During the 2009 Victorian bushfires, 173people perished as a direct result of thebushfires and another 374 people losttheir lives to extreme heat during thesame week. More than 2,000 peoplewere treated for heat-related illness inthe fires’ aftermath. 5
  6. Stress, anxiety & despairFollowing a severe weather event, as many as one in five people will suffer the debilitatingeffects of extreme stress, emotional injury and despair. An increasingly hostile climate willspell a substantial rise in the incidence of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. • Heat waves can lead to restless, sleepless nights. Temperature outside of mid-20 s Celsius can lead to impaired sleep, leading to tiredness and diminished productivity. • In a heat wave, people quickly become grumpier, more strained. Tempers flare. Thinking and concentration are impaired. Normal road rage is amplified. Domestic disputes turn nasty more easily. This has costs and consequences: it ties up law enforcement, hospitals, and other critical services. • Literature shows that aggressive, anti-social behaviour is also heightened during a heat wave, aided and abetted by binge-drinking and other kinds of drug abuse. 6
  7. The lingering effectsThe emotional and psychological toll of extreme weather events can linger formonths, even years. • Higher rates of drug and alcohol misuse, violence, family dissolution, and suicide are more likely to follow more extreme weather events. Evidence is beginning to emerge that drought and heat waves lead to higher rates of self-harm and suicide, as much as 8 per cent higher. • More than 1 in 10 primary school children were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder the three months following Cyclone Larry in Northern Queensland in March 2006. Common symptoms included flashbacks, nightmares and general state of distress, all of which may have had a deleterious effect on the children’s education and future life prospects. • Following the 2009 tragedy at Kinglake, Victoria, reports have emerged of higher- than-normal drug and alcohol abuse, as well as disempowerment following an initial burst of solidarity in the first few months post-disaster. 7
  8. Mental illnessMental illness is already the second largest contributor to the disease burden inAustralia. In any given year, one in five Australians suffers from a mental disorder ofsome kind, potentially making millions of people more vulnerable to mental ill-health inan increasingly hostile climate. • The treatment and management of mental health problems already costs taxpayers over $5 billion per year, while the cost in lost productivity is estimated at another $2.7 billion— costs set to rise in a changing climate. Mental health problems also tend to coalesce with economic and social ones, meaning that the overall toll is likely to be larger still. • Just how much Australians’ mental health burden grows in the future depends significantly on how quickly and substantially we act on climate change now. Seeing action on climate change as an investment in preventative health care is an important first step. 8
  9. Strained resourcesThe 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and the 2011 floods in Queensland showed thatwhile top-down disaster response and recovery efforts play vital roles, local-levelorganisations are also critical. But as extreme weather events like the currentheatwaves unfold, community organisations struggle to cope.• Ambulance transport and hospital admissions rise significantly during extreme weather events, straining emergency responders.• The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has said that many community organisations, which typically rely heavily on volunteers and provide a range of vital services, including support for young mothers, childcare, welfare and aged care, are likely to permanently collapse. This would leave societys most disadvantaged, including the elderly, mentally ill and the homeless, at real and increased risk of death. 9
  10. A global warningAtmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are at record highs andcontinue to climb. Carbon dioxide and methane concentrations are the highest they havebeen for hundreds of thousands of years.The extra heat energy in the climate system means that all weather now takes place in thecontext of a warmer and still-warming world.Not every extreme weather event can be directly or wholly attributed to carbon pollution.But by continuing to pollute, we are almost certainly worsening some – loading the dice infavour of more frequent and more intense extreme events, such as bushfires, drought, andheat waves.‘We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each.The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will berequired and the less suffering there will be.’ John Holdren, Science and Technology Advisor to US President Barack Obama  10
  11. Additional ResourcesFor a comprehensive In 2011, The Climate Institute prepared a report entitled A Climate oflist of references for Suffering: The Real Cost of Living with Inaction on Climatethe figures cited in this Change that sought to raise awareness of the mental healthpresentation download consequences of extreme weather events and climate change.the Media Brief. Alongside the report, a video was produced which explores the mental health impacts of those involved in extreme weather events like the Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009.  11
  12. More  12