Armidale GP and environmentalist Dr Sujata Allan believes there needs to be a co-ordinated strategy to prepare towns, communities, and health practices for climate change.
"We can already see what's happening now; we know what's predicted," she said. "Things are only going to get worse."
In her practice, she has already seen the toll a warming, drying planet has taken on her patients.
The prolonged drought, she said, has increased financial stress and anxiety about water, and caused diagnosable mental illnesses, depression, and suicide to rise.
- Opinion: Biggest public health threat is climate change, Dr Sujata Allan believes
- Councillors donate to Rotary for Ebor - but not all their colleagues are happy
- Win tickets to see the McClymonts' Armidale concert
- Show funds a double-win for drought-hit New England towns, Barnaby Joyce says
- Rail trail to bring region nearly $6 million a year, business case states
The bushfire season is earlier and more severe than before - and will worsen as global warming accelerates. Bushfires, of course, cause burns and even death, and destroy property, but the smoke particles also pollute the air.
On smoky days, Dr Allan said, she sees many patients with respiratory illnesses, asthma, and lung problems; people with chronic conditions are most at risk, but even healthy people are falling ill.
Heat is the biggest killer of all natural disasters in Australia, Dr Allan said - and climate change will bring longer, hotter, more intense heat waves.
These cause dehydration, heat stress, worsened chronic disease, and death. In 2009's Black Saturday bushfires, for instance, more than 300 people died from the heat wave alone. Dr Allan believes heat waves will be a particular problem for towns like Tamworth and Moree,
"The health effects of climate change are not controversial," Dr Allan said. "They're well-known."
The Australian Medical Association declared climate change a health emergency last month; the Climate and Health Alliance have called upon the government to develop a national strategy since 2017.
"There is widespread concern among the medical profession, among colleges, and AMA and other groups," Dr Allan said.
Dr Allan herself sits on the board of Doctors for the Environment Australia, an organisation dedicated to promoting health through care of the environment. She has worked on issues like air pollution and climate change, and protested against coal mines.
Hospitals and GP practices, Dr Allan believes, will need to prepare for disasters or how to keep vulnerable people safe in heat waves.
She also believes there needs to be better, more efficient, co-ordinated planning for the effects of climate change, including water conservation and drought management.
Tackling the root causes of climate change - the burning of fossil fuels - is vital, Dr Allan believes. Recognising that climate change is a health emergency means no new coal mines, and transitioning towards renewable energy, starting now.
"There's no excuse for delay," she said. "The more we delay, the more problems we're going to see.
"We already know that these solutions exist. They are completely feasible; the technology's already there. It's only political will stopping this from happening. There are job opportunities; it's safer for people; there's less air pollution with these cleaner technologies. So it doesn't make any sense on any levels apart from the fact that the political system is not helping."
But change can happen from a state and a council level, as well as a national level, Dr Allan thinks.
"Climate change has been called the greatest health challenge of the 21st century for a very good reason," Dr Allan said. "We need to start treating it as such, rather than just putting it in the political 'too hard' basket. It definitely is a core health issue that we all need to deal with."
Dr Allan encouraged people struggling or suffering from mental health to see their GP. "Don't feel like you're doing it on your own; reach out and talk to community people; talk to your doctor and get help."
She encouraged people anxious about drought or climate change to join groups working on these issues, or concerned people doing something practical to help.
"People aren't alone, and don't need to deal with these challenges alone," she said. "They should reach out."
If this has raised any issues for you, support is always available from:
- Lifeline (24/7 confidential crisis support): 13 11 11 14
- Beyond Blue (24/7 mental health counselling, support and referral assistance): 1300 224 636 or www.mensline.org.au
- Men's Helpline (24/7 information and referral services for men with family and relationship concerns): 1300 789 978 or www.mensline.org.au
- Kids Helpline (young people 5-25 years old): 1800 55 1800
- Hunter New England Local Health District - Drought Support Program (free mental health and emotional support for farmers, farming families, local businesses, and service providers affected by drought): 0477 322 851, or email HNELHD-DroughtSupport@health.nsw.gov.au