Body Count: How Climate Change is Killing Us

Paddy Manning

Body Count: How Climate Change is Killing Us
Simon & Schuster Australia
5 August 2020

Body Count: How Climate Change is Killing Us

Paddy Manning

Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction 2021
Longlisted for the 2020 Walkley Book Award

Suddenly, when the country caught fire, people realised what the government has not: that climate change is killing us.

But climate deaths didn’t start in 2019. Medical officers have been warning of a health emergency as temperatures rise for years, and for at least a decade Australians have been dying from the plagues of climate change - from heat, flood, disease, smoke. And now, pandemic.

In this detailed, considered, compassionate book, Paddy Manning paints us the big picture. He revisits some headline events which might have faded in our memory - the Brisbane Floods of 2011; Melbourne’s thunderstorm asthma fatalities of 2016 - and brings to our attention less well-publicised killers: the soil-borne diseases that amplify after a flood; the fact that heat itself has killed more people than all other catastrophes put together. In each case, he has interviewed scientists to explore the link to climate change and asks how - indeed, whether - we can better prepare ourselves in the future.

Most importantly, Manning has spoken to survivors and the families of victims, creating a monument to those we have already lost. Donna Rice and her 13-year-old son Jordan. Alison Tenner. The Buchanan family. These are stories of humans at their most vulnerable, and also often at their best. In extremis, people often act to save their loved ones above themselves. As Body Count shows, we are now all in extremis, and it is time to act.

Respected journalist Paddy Manning tells these stories of tragedy and loss, heroism and resilience, in a book that is both monument and warning.    


As I write this review, I’m conscious of that we’re about to clock twelve months since the onset of the fires in New South Wales that would get out of control and eventually devastate the landscape, communities, and biodiversity across that state. Those fires started because airborne dust particles created static which led to the formation of dry lightning. When the dry lightning struck, it ignited a landscape incredibly dry from years of little to no substantial rainfall. The conditions that led to these fires in NSW – and also the fires in Victoria and South Australia of 2019–20, along with those of Black Saturday in 2009 – are attributable to climate crisis.

Indeed the occurrence of such disasters (including floods), and other health-affecting phenomena (heatwaves, thunderstorm asthma, and pandemics) noticeably prevalent in the last decade, all pose significant risk to humans. In Body Count, Paddy Manning explores the connections between climate crisis and human health. He mounts a case to reframe the dialogue around climate crisis in terms of risk management and mitigation. Using examples of climate-related disasters that unfortunately incurred loss of life, Manning seeks to understand and presents cogent reasons for concerted action against climate crisis. Climate crisis costs lives. The physical and mental health of Australians and people around the world are at stake, a fact established by medical professionals, yet ignored by governments (including our own).

At the crux of this book is the call: we must collectively and cooperatively work to counter climate crisis for the security of our health and our planet. This book represents an important contribution to the climate crisis discussion. The last twenty years may represent a tiny blip to the Anthropocene era but anymore wasted time will be costly: to lives, food security, and biodiversity, now and in the medium to long-term future.

Julia Jackson is the assistant shop manager at Readings Carlton.

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