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OUR PLANETARY HEALTH: Consider climate issues before casting your vote

By Megan Tomlinson

By Megan Tomlinson

Special to the Record

Three years ago, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, warned mayors of the world: “Cities are where the climate battle will largely be won or lost.”

Since that time, we have seen the pressure on cities and towns increase as they learn to cope with extreme weather events. The physical and social infrastructures of our communities will be tested more frequently and with more intensity if further changes to our climate are not prevented, ultimately placing the health of all citizens at risk.

Nurses have a notable history of advocating for human health and we have become increasingly concerned about the looming climate crisis. Deaths from extreme heat events, worsening of asthma and other lung conditions from wildfires, and the expansion of zoonotic diseases such as Lyme disease are realities of our time. All Canadians are affected by climate change; however, certain populations are at higher risk including those living in poverty, the young and the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses. Future generations will suffer the most.

The most significant driver of climate change is human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. How people live, work, and travel all contribute to collective GHG levels. Municipalities and regional districts in Canada can influence approximately 50 per cent of our national GHG emissions through decisions on land use, transportation, and infrastructure. Significant reductions in GHG emissions in cities would limit the warming effects of air pollution, improve air quality, and mitigate the overall impacts of climate change.

In BC, transportation is the largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for roughly forty percent. The recently released transportation-related air pollution (TRAP) report by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment demonstrates that this pollution is directly associated with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, infections, and other health problems. Municipalities can directly reduce transportation-related GHG emissions through thoughtful urban planning, increasing active transportation infrastructure, and protecting carbon sinks such as forests and wetlands.

An additional ten percent of GHG emissions in BC originate from buildings, mainly from heating, cooling, and producing hot water. Natural gas is the dominant energy source in homes and buildings and is unfortunately extracted via highly destructive and polluting processes. Municipalities can introduce low carbon energy bylaws aimed at reducing the number of new buildings with natural gas lines while incentivizing clean energy alternatives.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities recognizes the pivotal role communities play in mitigating and adapting to climate change. They offer training, resources, and funds to support towns and cities to implement successful climate action. Municipalities are on the front lines of climate change and our communities and local leaders need to be prepared to rise to the challenge.

Unfortunately, the last municipal election brought just 34 per cent of British Columbians out to vote. Comox Valley residents had a slightly higher level of voters represented with 46 per cent in Cumberland, 40 per cent in Comox and 37 per cent in Courtenay. This Oct. 15th, citizens can take meaningful climate change action by voting for candidates who understand the integral role municipalities have in addressing climate change.

Climate change is often portrayed as a global problem, too large a conundrum for individual cities or towns. It is viewed through a lens of political indifference or economic risk, generating unhelpful rhetoric and stalling meaningful action. We must be clear - climate change is a human health and social justice issue with significant implications for municipalities and local communities. It is the defining issue of our time and we must address it at a local level. Each election could mark a historical turning point for our community; consider asking candidates which side of history they will stand on.

Megan Tomlinson, R.N. is a member of the Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment and a regular columnist for the Comox Valley Record