In advance of the 2019 federal election, a collection of organizations in health care is calling on all federal political parties to treat climate change as a threat to the physical and mental health of Canadians. They say that addressing climate change will pay immediate dividends in reduced health care costs.
This is the first salvo in a campaign leading up to the election intended to hold parties’ feet to the fire on climate policy.
The appeal was made February 5, 2019 in a joint statement from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Public Health Association and the Urban Public Health Network. They are calling on all federal parties to make climate solutions a priority in the 2019 federal election, slated for October 21, 2019.
Climate policies are often framed in a global context with benefits being felt by future generations. While there’s no denying that climate change is a global problem requiring long-term solutions, emissions reduction also can have immediate, local benefits.
For instance, Ontario’s shuttering of its coal-fired electricity plants, often cited as the most significant greenhouse gas reduction effort in North America, was originally proposed as a public health measure to reduce smog and its related health consequences.
It had an immediate impact on air quality, Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, tells EcoLog News. The number of poor air quality days plummeted, and hospitals saw fewer admissions for asthma attacks, particularly among children and seniors.
“I don’t think people are making that connection between climate action and improved health outcomes,” he says. In a country with publicly-funded health care, that's a pocketbook issue.
The line between reduced fossil fuel consumption and air quality is relatively straight. There are other benefits to carbon reduction that may not be as readily apparent, says Culbert, but they are just as real. Reducing reliance on the automobile for transportation will nudge people into more active lifestyles, he says. Those lifestyle changes will also pay immediate dividends, he says.
“A 30-minute walk in the evening is going to make a significant improvement in health outcomes,” he says. Transitioning to a more plant-based diet will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and lead to weight loss, he promises, with a wide range of positive health consequences.