Editor’s note: Comox Valley Nurses for Health & The Environment will be contributing a monthly Viewpoint column – Our Planetary Health – for the Comox Valley Record.
The state of the earth’s climate is a global health issue that all citizens, communities and nations need to take action on immediately. Children, elderly, immunocompromised and those impacted by socio-economic disparities are at highest risk of suffering from the negative impacts of climate change. The experience and lessons acquired through the COVID-19 pandemic must not be lost if we are going to tackle the greatest health issue of our time – the climate crisis.
Extreme heat and natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes due to climate change are increasing. The World Health Organization warns of impacts to the health care system: acute care needs will increase, water and vector-borne infectious diseases will continue to rise, and food supply and air quality will be negatively affected, placing those most vulnerable at highest risk. The trauma of witnessing massive loss and the impact of climate migration will negatively affect the mental health of fellow citizens.
Health sector associations such as the Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment (CANE) and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) stress the moral and ethical obligation to address climate change. On a local level, the Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment aim to increase awareness, take action and advocate on issues threatening the health and well-being of our community. Indeed, nurses and health care professionals are concerned that the Comox Valley has earned the unenviable title for being in the top ten communities for worst air quality in BC. Poor air quality has been directly linked to an increase in hospitalizations and premature deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
The current pandemic highlights the critical need to keep our hospitals at a manageable capacity. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen health care providers and the greater community lean on one another in order to flatten the epidemiological curve. We have witnessed how the actions of every individual impact the health of the greater community and how the health of the greater community ultimately creates or avoids a collapse of the healthcare system. As nurses, these are lessons that we do not want to be lost.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrates the need for governments to seek counsel from scientific communities and the health care sector to manage a public health crisis with evidence-based decision making. In the first half of 2020, the leader of our neighbour to the south chose to ignore the medical community’s plea for action in dealing with the current pandemic. We watched in disbelief as our friends, family and neighbours in the United States experienced an exponential growth of cases and a tragic number of deaths. Similarly, ignoring climate science and pleas for meaningful action on climate policy is negligent leadership. Focussing on economic prosperity without considering the health of our citizens is simply careless.
Too much time has been wasted turning a blind eye to the looming climate crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that individual action, community collaboration, evidence-based decision making and strong leadership can flatten the curve. As we envision a future that realizes optimal health outcomes for our future generations, let us learn from the lessons of today. Let us flatten the impact of climate change before it is too late.
Megan Tomlinson R.N. is a member of the Comox Valley Nurses for Health & the Environment www.cvnhe.org