Our individual health is directly impacted by our planetary health. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE

Our individual health is directly impacted by our planetary health. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE

OUR PLANETARY HEALTH: Health care professionals must speak out about the climate crisis

By Megan Tomlinson

Special to The Record

The science is clear – the health of the natural world, and consequently the health of human civilization, has reached an acute status. Floods, extreme heatwaves, and droughts are occurring with increasing frequency. Climate change is a glaring symptom of the planetary health crisis we are facing. No one is immune to the impacts and the people whose health is being harmed first and foremost, are the people who contribute least to the problem.

World leaders and representatives from across the globe are gathering from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 at the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, UK, known as COP26. When the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, governments agreed to a climate commitment of holding global temperature rises well below 2 C, aiming for 1.5 C, by 2050. We are currently experiencing the consequences of 1.1 C of global warming and the global temperature is increasing much faster than anticipated in 2015. The most current scientific assessments are straightforward – to avert catastrophic health impacts, the world must limit warming to 1.5 C. Every tenth of a degree in excess of this temperature threshold will take a serious toll on people’s lives and health.

Health care professionals have an ethical obligation to speak out about this rapidly growing crisis, one that will be far more catastrophic and enduring than the current COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of health organizations from across the globe have signed #HealthyClimate Prescription, an open letter calling on leaders to live up to their responsibilities by protecting their citizens, neighbours, and future generations from the climate crisis. Signatories represent over 45 million health professionals worldwide and include the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Medical Association.

Doctors and nurses from across British Columbia will gather at the legislature in Victoria on Nov. 4 in a climate rally, Code Red for Humanity, aimed at drawing attention to the health impacts already seen in our local clinics and hospitals. On the front lines of health care, we are seeing pediatric patients presenting in respiratory distress due to wildfire smoke and vulnerable people dying due to extreme heat. Wherever we deliver care, health workers are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change. We are working tirelessly to save lives from the current overdose crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. We certainly do not want a future filled with successive, spiralling health crises.

Decision-makers must commit to meaningful, consistent action to diminish the impending health catastrophe. Human health and climate justice must be central to the climate change mitigation and adaptation response. Cities and municipalities are instrumental to achieving the federal goal of a 40-45 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. Furthermore, communities will need to be creative, industrious and steadfast. This is the time to make a course correction for the future.

Individuals have a critical role. One of the most impactful actions each one of us can take is to be actively involved in existing efforts within our communities and professions. We can connect with our colleagues and neighbours, increase the conversation about climate change and collaborate at a grassroots level to protect the place we all call home.

The secretary-general to the UN, António Guterres recently said, “We must act together, smartly and quickly.”

The people and nations who have benefited most from the actions that caused the climate crisis, especially fossil fuel extraction and use, have a great responsibility to do everything possible to help those who are now most at risk. We need to rise to the occasion and pledge to protect planetary health as we would fight for the health of our most beloved.

Megan Tomlinson R.N. is a member of the Comox Valley Nurses for Health & the Environment www.cvnhe.org

Climate crisisColumnComox Valley