Be a climate hero – switch on the fan

7 July 2017
Fans are effective during a heatwave

Switching on the humble fan is a great first step to reducing climate change which is a major threat to our health, say University of Sydney researchers.

Switching on the humble fan is a great first step to reducing climate change which is a major threat to Australians' health, says Professor of Planetary Health Tony Capon, who addressed the Public Health Association Australia's Planetary Health Forum in Sydney recently.

"My colleague at University of Sydney Dr Ollie Jay has shown that fans are a really effective way for most people to keep cool in a heatwave.

"It costs you a lot less to run your fan than your air-conditioner, so less of an energy cost directly and also less of a carbon cost."

Dr Ollie Jay said: "Fans offer a cooling strategy that is up to 50-times cheaper and cleaner than air conditioning. The benefits are two-fold - the person is directly targeted with cooling instead of the space surrounding them, and no physical cooling of the air is needed." 

Extreme weather events including heatwaves and floods can be deadly, and climate change together with rapid urbanisation harms health by increasing malnutrition, diarrhoea, over-heatingvand mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue.

Elderly people, infants, people of low socio-economic status and developing nations bear the brunt of the burden of the environmental degradation driven by wealthy nations' addiction to high-consumption lifestyles.

"There's no doubt that poor people around the world are most affected. It's about owning up to that addiction to consumption and trying to re-think it," Professor Capon said.

"New thinking is needed from the flick of a switch to global governance.

"There's plenty of evidence that these high-consumption, material ways of living are actually not doing our health any good. If everybody in the world lived as the average Australian lives we would need four or more planets.

"Australians in cities such as Fremantle are trying out "one planet living" by reducing waste, and encouraging people to recycle, reuse, and grow and share food. But such initiatives need state and federal governments to chip in with longer-term policies on sustainable energy and infrastructure."

Public Health Association of Australia President David Templeman said Australia's leaders need to accept the science of climate change and act because climate change is the greatest threat to public health at the present time.

Heatwaves can be more deadly than bushfires, he said, for example in the 2009 heatwave Victoria recorded 374 excess deaths in just one week while cardiac arrests nearly tripled, emergency call-outs rose by 46 per cent and cases of heat-related illness leapt 34-fold.