September – Vote for Better Public Health by Addressing Climate Change

Written by Communications, September 25, 2019

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With a federal election in the air, hopefully there will be a heightened opportunity to discuss how Canada responds to the climate emergency that threatens the wellbeing and the future of our planet. In fact, a recent Ipsos Reid poll showed that 82% of Canadians see climate change as a serious problem, and that 75% of us agree that we need to do more to address the issues around climate change. There is abundant evidence showing the negative impact that climate change has on health, which includes aggravated respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, increased injury and death, and the risk of triggering mental health issues. The stakes are high and we voters have a responsibility to educate ourselves so that we can choose carefully, based on this, as well as other important issues that we care about.

Ontario’s former Environmental Commissioner, Dr. Diane Saxe, joined us in Peterborough earlier this summer to share her best advice. Her opening words were that the climate emergency is worse than we thought. The rapid rate of global warming has accelerated more than twice the rate in the 1990s and the high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have jettisoned us into unchartered territory. She asked us to consider what leadership our municipalities can and must play, given their role in land use decisions and their ownership of most of our important infrastructure.

While we must wait for the results of the federal election, there’s a growing sense of urgency for us to take action. In a normal year, according to Dr. Saxe, the average Ontarian emits 2.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide from driving their car, 1.7 tonnes from home heating, 1.4 tonnes from air travel and 0.5 tonnes from eating beef. There are ways to reduce any of those to ZERO: by driving an electric car or taking transit, walking or cycling; by heating with electricity, solar or renewable energy; by eliminating air travel or buying certified carbon credits to offset flights; and by eating plant-based proteins instead. Equally important are actions like reducing our overall consumption of goods, minimizing waste, conserving water and planting more drought-resistant shrubs and trees for shade.

In fact, it’s never been easier to find good advice on how to make climate change a personal priority. The Ontario Public Health Association has launched a new website, www.makeitbetterontario.ca, to do exactly that. With a focus on protecting children, the #MakeItBetter campaign provides well-referenced information on the health effects of climate change on children, lots of great suggestions for climate change mitigation, and even an opportunity to sign on to a commitment to stay informed, share information, and take action.

Peterborough Public Health has a provincial mandate to ensure our communities have a plan on how best to prepare for climate change. Currently, we’re assessing our community’s vulnerability to climate change from a public health perspective. From mid-September to November, we’ll be engaging with local agencies to develop a made-in-Peterborough adaptation plan to protect our communities, including the most vulnerable among us.

With summer over and everyone back to work, it may be a great time to engage with local leaders to take collective action, where possible. Dr. Saxe had some suggestions for that too. She told us that there are three important actions that municipal councils can undertake as part of a Climate Change Action Plan: preventing and ending urban sprawl, protecting nature, and making local polluters pay for the damage done.

Dr. Saxe left us with an important point and a question that I would like, in turn, to leave you: “Individual action is a great place to start, but it would be a terrible place to stop. Will you speak up?”