The bushfires raging across Australia this summer have sharpened the focus on how climate change affects human health.
This season bushfires have already claimed more than 30 human lives, and many people have grappled with smoke inhalation and mental health concerns.
The changing nature of bushfires around the world is one of the tragic consequences of climate change highlighted in "Our Future on Earth, 2020"—a report published on Friday by Future Earth, an international sustainability research network.
The report includes a survey of 222 leading scientists from 52 countries who identified five global risks: failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation; extreme weather events; major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse; food crises; and water crises.
They identified these risks as the most severe in terms of impact on planetary health—the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends.
Notably, the scientists underlined the threat that the interplay and feedback loops between these risks pose. In other words, each of these global risks worsens one another in ways that may cascade to create a worldwide systemic crisis.
For instance, it's not just bushfires—it's the combination of bushfires with drought, biodiversity loss, floods and ecosystem degradation.
We should not be thinking about them in isolation as politicians sometimes seem to do, for instance by proposing to respond to bushfires by simply removing vegetation.
Ultimately, the report leads us to wonder: will humans continue to thrive on Earth? The answer depends on whether we can act together, with urgency, to reduce our footprint.
Hopefully, some good can come from this summer's devastating bushfires. They might just help us wake up to the urgent need for climate action. The health and well-being of future generations depends on it.
The report isn't all doom and gloom
Beyond these global risks, the report covers topics including food, oceans, politics, media and forced migration. The report doesn't simply describe problems, it highlights where progress is being made, such as with technology.
Much existing technology is being used to promote consumption in the pursuit of economic growth, rather than to safeguard ecosystems or to promote just and fair societies. But the report also highlights how the digital sector has immense potential for reducing emissions and empowering people to monitor and protect ecosystems.
This can include, for instance, using digital technologies to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions in buildings, transport and industry. And new imaging technologies are providing satellite data to monitor forests in real time, and track deforestation and illegal forest activity.