Commentary: Rallying against the blaze – Uniting Canadians to fight climate change

by ahnationtalk on April 24, 202438 Views

April 24, 2024

Canadians have at least 150 new reasons to unite against a common enemy: climate change. The effects of climate change created the setting that allowed more than 6,500 wildfires to burn across Canada last year, destroying 18.5 million hectares of land Opens in a new window — more than double the previous record Opens in a new window and over nine times the 10-year average of 2.7 million hectares.

We recently learned that more than 150 of last year’s blazes continue to burn in Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. While it’s common that a handful of summer wildfires — sometimes referred to as holdover or “zombie” fires — will continue to burn underground through the winter months, wildfire expert Michael Flannigan recently told the Washington Post Opens in a new window: “I’ve been watching fire in Canada and abroad since the late ’70s. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Experts are warning Opens in a new window that Canada must prepare for extreme weather events and Minister of Emergency Preparedness Harjit Sajjan said he expects the 2024 wildfire season to be worse than last year.

Wildfires are a harrowing manifestation of the current climate-health crisis, posing significant risks to livelihoods Opens in a new window, safety Opens in a new window and health Opens in a new window. Wildfire smoke presents serious mental and physical health risks, exacerbating lung, heart and other conditions. Children, seniors and others with compromised health due to multiple chronic diseases are particularly vulnerable. Equally important are the known and yet unknown long-term health risks Opens in a new window of wildfire smoke exposure. Across Canada last year, people in cities like Toronto and Montreal were routinely exposed to some of the worst air in the world according to global air quality tracker IQAir. The same wildfire smoke drifted south to Chicago and east to Europe.

There is an urgent need to address climate change, the root cause of the wildfire crisis, across all jurisdictions. All business sectors must commit to taking steps to mitigate their environmental footprints and support those who are fighting an extremely challenging and increasingly deadly fight. This includes the financial sector, which encompasses banks that fuel and facilitate greenhouse gas emissionsOpens in a new window responsible for planet warming, as well as insurance Opens in a new window entities that are leaving areas affected by wildfires and pension plans Opens in a new window that need to provide wildland firefighters with a financially secure retirement.

It also includes the health sector, which is responsible for an estimated 4.6 per cent of national greenhouse gas emissions — more than aviation and shipping. The health sector contributes to climate change through medical waste, anesthetics, and an enormous supply chain. Governments and health-care leaders must work to “green” the health system to help reduce its carbon footprint. Imagine the scale of the positive impact on this planet and human health. If we could remove that many emissions from our atmosphere, we would be directly helping to slow climate change, mitigate its impacts and set the bar high for other industries.

To ensure a sustainable future Opens in a new window, we must renew and elevate societal values of solidarity and cooperation as we align our actions with a nature-centered system of values. We are all global citizens with only one planet to sustain our existence. One promising approach to this is One Health Opens in a new window, promoted by the World Health Organization and others as a collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary method of attaining the best health outcomes through recognition of the connections that exist between people, animals, plants, and our shared environment.

As Canada supports international efforts to curb the effects of our warming planet, we also need a national strategy for addressing climate change within our borders. The Canadian Medical Association is calling on the federal government to create a climate and health secretariat that would link Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, Infrastructure Canada and other federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments and partners. Such a secretariat could develop a pan-Canadian approach to address the health impacts of climate change and create a climate-resilient and low-carbon sustainable health system.

Through collective inaction, we have created the climate crisis our planet is facing. We must collectively do everything we can to slow global warming, mitigate climate change and build a healthier, more sustainable future for future generations.

With Canada increasingly — literally — on fire, we cannot afford to wait.

Independent Senator Rosa Galvez is one of Canada’s leading experts in pollution control and its effect on human health. She has a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from McGill University.

Dr. Kathleen Ross is a family physician in British Columbia and the president of the Canadian Medical Society.

This commentary was first published by The Hill Times Opens in a new window on April 22, 2024.

NT6

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