By Kim Perrotta
In an unprecedented move, five national health organizations representing doctors, nurses, medical officers, and public health professionals gathered in Ottawa to call for urgent action to prevent catastrophic climate change on Feb. 5.
It is an election year and all of our organizations — the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), the Urban Public Health Network (UPHN), the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) — agree that climate change is too important to the health and well-being of our children and grandchildren to be treated as a wedge issue in the upcoming federal election.
The mental and physical health of Canadians is already being harmed by climate change. Last year, tens of thousands of Canadians had their lives, homes or jobs threatened by wildfires, power outages, tornadoes and floods; millions in western Canada were forced to breath toxic air pollution as wildfire smoke blanketed their communities for days or weeks at a time; and millions in central and eastern Canada suffered through searing heat for much of the summer.
On a global scale, the health impacts of climate change are already devastating. The prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, reported in 2018 that 712 extreme weather events occurred around the world in 2017, resulting in US$326-billion in economic losses — nearly a three-fold increase in economic losses over 2015. It also found that: 157 million more people were exposed to heat waves in 2017 than were exposed in 2000; insect and water-borne diseases are increasing in some regions of the world; and agricultural yield potential is decreasing in the 30 countries for which data were available. It concluded that the “trends in climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerabilities demonstrate an unacceptably high level of risk for the current and future health of populations across the world.”
The health impacts we experience today pale in comparison to those expected if we allow global warming to increase to two degrees Celsius. The 2018 International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report portrays a world with 2C of warming as one with higher sea levels, significant loss of biodiversity, prolonged heat waves, water shortages, shrinking food supplies, disruptions in transportation systems, exploding numbers of refugees displaced by flooding coastlines and parched lands, and increased global strife. It concludes that, if global warming reaches 2C, each year hundreds of millions of people will be forced into poverty by water scarcity, severe droughts, declining crop yields, and flooding along coastal areas.