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Doctors issue public health warning on Basin Flyover



26 May 2014

Doctors issue public health warning on Basin Flyover

At today’s cross-examination of public health witnesses as the Basin flyover hearings continue, the flyover’s threats to health were exposed.

Speaking for OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council, Dr Alex Macmillan, Council Co-convenor and senior lecturer in Environmental Health at the Dunedin School of Medicine, said: “The Basin flyover’s biggest threat to our health is increasing climate-damaging emissions.”

“This flyover and the associated SH1 improvements, will increase greenhouse gas emissions at exactly the time when New Zealand needs to be rapidly reducing transport emissions”, says Dr Macmillan.

Dr Macmillan said that although the NZ Transport Agency does not accept the effects of the project on climate change as relevant, our changing climate is widely recognised by world health authorities and top medical journals as a leading threat to global health this century.

“The Basin flyover is part of the Roads of National Significance that encourage much greater private vehicle dependence at the expense of public and active transport – and the health of Wellingtonians”, says Dr Macmillan.

Dr Macmillan adds: “There are real opportunity costs with the funding of this flyover, when just 1400 metres down the road, Wellington’s regional hospital is crippled with debt. Ironically, by designing physical activity out of New Zealand’s transport system, NZTA is also increasing the load on hospitals.”

Research shows that physical inactivity is costing our economy around one percent of GDP including impacts on workplace productivity and individual well-being. Globally, physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of premature death. In 2010 alone, twenty-one premature deaths were attributed to physical inactivity inWellington and costs of $141 million. Research also shows that for each 1% reduction in motor vehicle distance, there is a corresponding 1.4-1.8% reduction in the incidence of road vehicle crashes.

“The NZTA has clearly not understood that transport and health spending come from the same taxpayer purse”, says Dr Macmillan. “NZTA’s failure to adequately consider a whole of raft of health impacts, physical inactivity, noise and air quality effects, road traffic injuries, and most importantly, the flyover’s impact on climate health, is clearly false economy, outdated and irresponsible.”


OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council


OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate & Health Council comprises senior doctors and other health professionals concerned with climate change as a serious public health threat. They also promote the positive health gains that can be achieved through action to address climate change. See: www.orataiao.org.nz

Notes to editors:


About Climate Change and Health

Human-caused climate change is a serious and urgent threat to human health. Climate change and its environmental manifestations (e.g. warmer temperatures, more heat waves, altered rainfall patterns, more extreme weather such as heavy rainfall events and/or drought, tropical storms, sea-level rise) result in many risks to human health, both direct and indirect, that are recognised by world health authorities and leading medical journals alike.

Globally, leading health threats include water and food shortages, extreme weather events, and changing patterns of infectious disease. In NZ there will also be new health and social pressures relating to climate migrant and refugee populations arriving in NZ and flow-on health impacts from changes in the global economy. NZ already has a relatively high burden of several diseases that are sensitive to climatic conditions, and climate trends may already be affecting the health of New Zealanders.

It has been estimated that climate change already causes 400,000 deaths per year globally through malnutrition, heat illnesses, diarrhoeal infections, vector (e.g. mosquito) borne disease, meningitis and environmental disasters; and that this number will increase substantially by 2030 if current emission patterns continue. These health impacts most seriously affect people in developing countries, and the most disadvantaged and vulnerable within all countries.

Health Co-benefits of Climate Action

Addressing climate change is an opportunity to improve population health and reduce inequities (unfair differences in health between different population groups). In NZ, well-designed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can bring about substantial health co-benefits including reductions in heart disease, cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disease, respiratory disease, and motor vehicle injuries, and improvements in mental health - with resultant cost savings for the health care system.

These co-benefits arise because some emission reductions measures impact on important determinants of health, especially energy intake (nutrition) and expenditure (physical movement). For example:

• Active transport (walking, cycling, public transport) improves physical activity, reduces emissions, and can reduce air pollution and road traffic injuries. Walking and cycling are inexpensive, and public transport is used proportionately more by people with lower incomes – with benefits to health, climate and equity.

• Healthy eating, including increased plant and less red meat and animal fat consumption, would reduce the emissions associated with food production and likely lead to reduced rates of bowel cancer and heart disease.

• Improving indoor environments (e.g. energy efficiency measures such as home insulation) can reduce illnesses associated with cold, damp housing (e.g. childhood asthma and chest infections which are leading causes of hospital admissions, particularly for Maori and Pacific children).

• Increasing energy efficiency and/or moving away from fossil fuels would reduce health-damaging air pollution (e.g. particulates) from fuel combustion, in both indoor and outdoor environments, with large health gains.


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