The past few months have given us a frightening taste of the impacts that climate change can have on our lives here in Canada.
The BC “heat dome” may have claimed hundreds of lives. Wildfires forced thousands from their homes and robbed hundreds of all that they own. Millions of people in western Canada were forced to breath air filled with toxic smoke for days or weeks at a time. Farmers in the prairies have struggled to keep their crops alive through the worst drought in 20 years. Thousands have been affected by floods. Millions have suffered through protracted heat waves. This is not the new reality; it is merely a taste of what is to come if we do not dramatically cut our greenhouse gases within the next few years.
The new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it abundantly clear that:
- the climate is warming at an unprecedented pace;
- human activities are the primary cause of it;
- relative to present-day conditions, the intensity of extreme events would be at least double at 2°C and quadruple at 3°C of global warming; and
- there is still time to avoid the worst impacts if we move quickly to eliminate our use of fossil fuels.
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared: “Climate change is the biggest global threat to human health, while the Paris Agreement is potentially the strongest health agreement of the 21st century”.
This is the good news. Most of the actions that are needed to stop climate change will produce immediate and significant health benefits in the jurisdictions that take action by reducing air pollution, decreasing social inequities, increasing physical activity, and improving our diets. For example, in Canada, one quarter of our greenhouse gases come from the transportation sector. By improving public transit, fostering cycling, creating more walkable communities, and developing Zero Emission Vehicles, we can reduce air pollution, increase physical activity, and improve social equity – all of which will reduce chronic diseases, healthcare costs and early deaths.
Health professionals have an important role to play in the debate about climate action. Experience and communication surveys have demonstrated that people trust health professionals, care about health issues, and are more likely to support actions taken to protect health.
Health professionals can help win policies and programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by building awareness among the public and decision-makers about the health risks presented by climate change and the immediate health and social benefits that can result from climate actions. But we cannot do this without your help.
With your support, we will create health-based educational materials, public engagement campaigns, op-eds, press releases, blogs and e-newsletters to help the public, health professionals and decision-makers to understand the sources of greenhouse gases in different regions of the country, the health risks linked to climate change, the actions needed in Canada to reduce emissions, and the immediate health and social benefits associated with those actions.
We will collaborate with health allies and strategize with energy, environmental and community groups to promote walkable communities, public transit, cycling infrastructure, zero emission buildings, building retrofits, renewable energies, zero emission vehicles, and the phase-out of fossil fuels
Together, we can create healthy, green and just communities and leave our children with a hope-filled future.