5 reasons why care and the climate are inseparable

Amy Hall on the underappreciated link between the twin crises of our times.

Photo: Pixabay

1 Climate change is a
health emergency

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that between 2030 and 2050 climate change will cause an extra 250,000 deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. Healthcare workers are already seeing rising rates of childhood asthma, insect-borne diseases and other conditions exacerbated by climate change and pollution. Our mental health is also at risk. Research published in 2018 found that climate change could lead to as many as 40,000 additional suicides in the US and Mexico by 2050.

All these impacts are going to make high demands on health workers and carers.

2 Carers are first responders
to disaster

The UN has warned that climate disasters are now happening at the rate of one a week. In such crises, disabled and older people generally have a lower survival rate. They can be left out of evacuation plans, unable to access transport and emergency information or abandoned.

As well as shouldering the long-term impacts, in disaster situations emergency services, health workers, carers, teachers and transport workers are at the forefront of the response and often have to make quick decisions on how to look after the people in their care. Take the situation of home carer Teresa Santos who, together with her client 90-year-old Sally Lewis, died during the 2017 Atlas Peak wildfire in California. ‘She didn’t save herself, she stayed with my mother until the end,’ Lewis’ daughter told reporters.

3 Climate change deepens the gender divide

Unless we tackle the social norms around care and domestic labour in a transformative way, the care burden for women and girls is only going to get heavier as the impacts of climate change intensify and resources become more scarce.

It is estimated that by 2025 around 2.4 billion people will be living in areas without enough water. Fuel and firewood will be harder to find. Globally, collecting these are tasks mostly carried out by women and girls who will have to travel further to get supplies, risking violence on the way and taking valuable time away from other responsibilities and their own education.

4 Care work is climate work

Jobs that involve caring for people, and the planet, are some of the least polluting. A transition to a greener economy would have to value these kinds of jobs, particularly as need expands due to ageing populations and the effect of climate shocks.

5 It’s a matter of survival

Covid-19 has been a warning that we can’t protect human health while continuing to plunder the natural world. A more caring economy must also care for nature – our ultimate life source.

A warning has been raised by Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s department of environment and climate change, that the devastation of natural habitats, industrial agriculture and the trade in wildlife are key drivers of diseases that move from wild creatures to humans. Alongside other experts she wrote in June: ‘We must embrace a just, healthy and green recovery and kickstart a wider transformation towards a model that values nature as the foundation for a healthy society. Not doing so, and instead attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, health systems and social safety nets, has already proven to be a false economy. The bill will be paid many times over.’