Peak oil & your health

by Dr Nick Towle

Your health and that of all Tasmanians will almost certainly be affected by peak oil. Whether the outcome is improved health or a deterioration will largely be determined by the ways in which we choose to respond individually and collectively.

For simplicity, it’s worth considering health in two parts, 1) health service delivery and 2) primary health, including healthy living.

Health service delivery – the hospitals, medical clinics etc – is what helps us to get back on our feet when we become ill and is what most people think about when we talk about health. It is the latter – a healthy diet, regular exercise, avoidance of harmful behaviours such as smoking and maintaining a clean environment – which actually gives us good health.

Underpinning both of these are some very basic elements for health, including: access to clean drinking water, nutritious and affordable food and adequate housing. At worst peak oil may challenge our capacity to provide the basics of clean water and appropriate housing for all Tasmanians, therefore we cannot afford to take any of these things for granted.

Peak oil may affect our health in many ways. Health service delivery is dependent upon long tenuous supply chains to deliver medical equipment and resources, including medicines. We also rely very heavily on transport, moving those who are unwell or our need to simply access the range of medical services.

Rather than guessing which elements are more or less vulnerable to peak oil an immediate task for local and state authorities is to map all of those elements upon which our current health service systems are dependent and assess the outcomes for each if we see a rise in energy costs, reduced fossil fuel availability or a combination of both.

There are many affordable ways for individuals to maintain good health – ideally before peak oil begins to take hold. It’s worth looking at the quality of your current housing. Are there simple measures to make it warmer in winter? Are there spaces where you could grow some of your own food?

Discuss with your doctor or family health care provider ways to improve your lifestyle and make choices that will contribute to good health for years to come.

An important strategy for maintaining your mental health is to join with others in learning about peak oil, especially those who have a positive view about the ways in which we can address the challenges ahead.

(Dr Nick Towle is an emergency resident and clinical academic with the University of Tasmania. He has a passion for health and is an advocate for sustainable living.)