MARK METHERELL August 14, 2012
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
FOSSIL fuel use generates death and disease costing Australia $6 billion a year, yet the health benefits of cutting carbon dioxide emissions have been overlooked, a report by climate groups says.
The Climate and Health Alliance and the Climate Institute have compiled recent evidence about the impact on health of rising carbon dioxide levels.
The report says there are substantial and immediate economic and health benefits available from taking action on climate change.
''Many of the biggest health challenges today, and the greatest drains on the public purse, are preventable chronic diseases associated with carbon-intensive lifestyles,'' says the report released today.
Coal-fired power triggered lung, heart and nervous system diseases estimated to cost Australia $2.6 billion a year, while the annual health costs of pollution from oil-fuelled vehicles were put at $3.3 billion a year.
Switching from vehicle transport to cycling or walking to work would reduce obesity, which would significantly reduce risk of heart disease, breast cancer and mental illness.
Reductions in consumption of meat from cattle and sheep, which were big contributors of greenhouse gas in Australia, would not only reduce pollution but also reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer.
The report says: ''In Australia, air pollution is estimated to kill more people every year than the road toll.''
Many strategies such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels and lower consumption of animal foods offered immediate and localised health benefits.
''Many people see climate change as something in the distant future and not an immediate threat,'' the report said.
Showing the tangible and immediate benefits possible from cutting emissions could help build public support for climate action.
The convener of the Climate and Health Alliance, Fiona Armstrong, says the health dividend resulting from reduced greenhouse gases would more than offset the cost of implementing the carbon tax.
The benefits of reducing air pollution produced health benefits valued at $50 a tonne of carbon dioxide - double the price that the government had put on carbon in Australia.
''Those gains would be much higher if you take action now,'' Ms Armstrong said.
What was needed was for better information to be made available on the health implications for the public to recognise the direct human benefits of lower greenhouse gases, she said.