While we can all appreciate the benefits of a clean, healthy and protected environment, the intrinsic connections between climate health and human health are also becoming increasingly obvious. As experts in comprehensive, cradle-to-grave human health, family doctors regularly see the impacts of environmental degradation on their patients’ health. This includes asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer, the effects of extreme cold and extreme heat events, vector-borne disease and stress. This link, however, is not always clear in public discourse around climate change, and it may be overlooked in our busy lives as clinicians, teachers and learners. Global support for climate action has been mounting, and we recently saw some of the largest global climate demonstrations in history. Then, on the heels of record-breaking climate strikes, came the COVID-19 pandemic. While this global crisis consumed our lives, many recognized the pandemic as a planetary health emergency that was fundamentally linked to climate change. If we ignore this opportunity to make positive changes that protect our patients and our environment, we can expect to see the frequency and severity of global health emergencies continue to rise. Many physicians across Canada, including Ottawa-based family physicians Dr. Eugenie Waters and Dr. Sarah Sloan, are joining a growing chorus of healthcare leaders to advocate for climate action and a sustainable recovery from COVID-19.
For Dr. Waters and Dr. Sloan, ensuring a healthy recovery from the pandemic feels particularly urgent when they consider their desire to provide a sustainable future for their own children, and for every child who will inherit our planet. Many of us face similar anxieties – we wonder what kind of world we are leaving for the next generations, what their future will look like, and if we are setting them up for a lifetime of economic, social and environmental disasters. Dr. Waters and Dr. Sloan also recognize the role that social justice and health equity play when it comes to climate action. It is no secret that marginalized populations, the same who face persistent inequities when it comes to their health, are those who experience the most devastating impacts of environmental degradation. Improving health equity and protecting the environment often go hand-in-hand, and both must be considered if we wish to create a healthier future for our patients and our children. One of the many privileges of being a physician is the opportunity to advocate for our patients, and for those who have historically been ignored. Dr. Waters and Dr. Sloan acknowledge and embrace this platform, and encourage other physicians to do the same, for the benefit of their patients, their children and their communities as a whole.
Upon realizing that they shared many parallels with their peers who were physicians and parents concerned with social and environmental issues, Dr. Waters and Dr. Sloan became instrumental in leading MD Moms 4 Healthy Recovery. This group brings together physicians across Canada to advocate for an equitable and sustainable future to improve patient and community health, and reduce the frequency and severity of planetary health emergencies. Last summer, the group shared a video asking the Government of Canada and fellow Canadians to prioritize climate action and social equity. You may recognize a few familiar faces, including the DFM’s Dr. Josdalyne Anderson and Dr. Marie-Ève Bérubé, as well as Dr. Megan Apsimon (DFM graduate), Dr. Paloma O’Meara (former DFM resident) and Dr. Tonja Stothart (DFM graduate). The group echoes the recommendations from the Healthy Recovery Plan prepared by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). This plan outlines 25 recommendations to the Government of Canada around clean energy, transportation, buildings, healthcare, conservation and more. Recently, the group met with politicians and public servants to advocate for the strengthening of Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. Their work seeks to highlight the importance of climate action on improved health outcomes, emphasizing the need for robust and evidence-based legislation that will result in meaningful change to the health of our environment and populations. At the local level, upon noticing a glaring lack of investment in climate change in the City of Ottawa’s 2021 budget, the group sent a letter to Mayor Jim Watson imploring our municipal government to take stronger action on climate change and make a commitment to sustainable urban planning.
Just last week, MD Moms 4 Healthy Recovery released a new video featuring Canadian mothers and physicians (including the DFM's Dr. Valérie Bernier) calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to commit to stronger climate action that prioritizes health and equity. Today and tomorrow, Prime Minister Trudeau will participate in a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. This Earth Day-inspired video was created in collaboration with CAPE, who have also recently shared an open letter urging a healthy climate target at the Leaders Summit. You can add your signature to their letter online.
Are you interested in participating in climate action with local physicians? Here are a few ways you can get involved:
- Join MD Moms 4 Healthy Recovery on Facebook, follow them on Twitter (@MDmoms4HR) or contact them by email.
- Connect with the OMA’s Green is Health Interest Group. You can like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter (@greenishealthmd) and Instagram (@greenishealth.md) or contact them by email.
- Join the Ottawa Greening Healthcare Journal Club. Contact the DFM's Dr. Curtis Lavoie to join.
- Connect with your provincial chapter of CAPE, including the Ontario Chapter and the Quebec Chapter. You can also sign their open letter urging Prime Minister Trudeau to commit to healthy climate targets.
- Make sustainable healthcare a priority in your clinical environments by joining your clinic or hospital’s environment committees – or start your own! The Green Office Toolkit can help you get started.
- Consider some personal divestment goals to remove your investment capital from the fossil fuel industry. On March 11, CAPE gave a webinar on tips for personal divestment for physicians. An increasing number of healthcare organizations, including the Canadian Medical Association, are also committed to fossil fuel divestment.
- Register for the Colloque Climat et santé, May 17-21. This Francophone event is the only one of its kind that brings together doctors, healthcare professionals, biologists, and specialists from the environmental sector, law, economics and non-profit organizations working in the environmental sector (eligible for Mainpro + credits). Contact: 1 800 387-2228 ext. 222 / email@example.com.
Want to learn more?
The DFM’s Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth co-hosts the podcast Rx:Advocacy with Ottawa-area community activist Ariel Troster. Listen to their episode with Dr. Eugenie Waters and Dr. Sarah Sloan on health and climate advocacy.
Check out the full list of recent webinars from CAPE, and their comprehensive Climate Change Toolkit for Healthcare Professionals.