Megan Smith, Homelessness Planning and Coordination Officer for Central Queensland, Queensland Council of Social Service
Light bulbs

In light of recent severe weather events, discussions on the impact on people experiencing poverty and disadvantage and the wider sector that supports them is emerging. As a non-scientist Social Worker I will leave the debate surrounding climate change and have written this Blog on the assumption that it is.

For those readers requiring more detail about the science, I refer you direct to the Climate Council's webpage  Where a variety of resources can be located for free to assist you understand our future challenges.

Of particular concern though is the likely consequences Australia will face in the coming decades as the impact of global warming is experienced. Coupled with some emerging research detailing the impact of sustainable ecological living recently published in the Australian Social Work: The Journal of the Australian Association of Social Workers (Vol 66, No. 2, June 2013), there are some clear areas of worry.

The Climate Commission details trends which are of real interest to our sector including increased; temperature extremes, sea levels and humidity. But what does all this mean for our sector and our work? What about the complex relationships between other sectors of the economy?

Lets look at some direct impacts first, increased temperature extremes will bring higher temperatures and longer heat waves to Queensland. Older people, young babies and those working outdoors are likely to be significantly impacted upon by the consequences of severe and sustained heat exhaustion.

Mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue Fever are expected to reach further down the eastern seaboard as increases in humidity increase the host parasites range.

Increased cyclonic activity bringing more flooding and destruction to the Australian coastline and increasing risk of death and injury as we manage our cities and population centers trapped within these areas.

But the impact continues in far more complex ways;

  • tourism declines as the coral draw card of the Great Barrier Reef is calcified,
  • increased destructive events drive insurance policies out of the range of affordability of low income recipients,
  • public infrastructure costs rise reflecting increased repair costs,
  • public funds available to this sector declines as governments spend more money in other areas,
  • droughts in regional Queensland drive more rural economies into severe stress with knock on effects on the mental health of those trying to carve a living from farming,
  • water storage and usage systems need to be rethought and remodeled.</li>

Whilst all sectors of global and national societies will suffer some impact, those disadvantaged and living in poverty will experience more hardship and take longer to recover. Women, children, older people and young people will bear a greater brunt without strong representation.

What is the role of the Health and Community Service Sector to advocate for policy and planning initiatives that ensure these groups are protected into the future as we plan to manage or mitigate the impacts of global warming on our communities?

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