On April 22, people around the world will come together to celebrate Earth Day – an annual event aimed at educating people about environmental issues affecting our planet and, more recently, protesting climate change and global warming. And while we have come a long way in the 50 years since the first Earth Day, we are far from where we need to be in order to salvage a world for our younger generations.
Climate change has been called the greatest global health threat of the 21st century and poses devastating environmental impacts and consequences. This last year alone we witnessed the detrimental effects that flash floods, the heat dome, forest fires, and poor air quality had on our communities and on our health. But Earth Day involves more than just planetary health, it is also about our collective responsibility, commitment, and connection to our global health and well-being. The decisions we make affect our physical and emotional health, and both our individual and our collective contributions can impact environmental outcomes and the world we live in.
From our households to our hospitals, there are many factors contributing to global warming. The Canadian healthcare system ranks third-highest in terms of per capita greenhouse gas emissions and contributes 4% of Canada’s total emissions, meaning we need to drastically improve our carbon footprint and the negative impact it has on our planetary health. When it comes to our waste and our paper consumption, could we not pivot the way in which we do things and utilize advances in technology and digital information sharing to lessen the burden on our environment? The healthcare system is in desperate need of an overhaul in many aspects, what if one of those was a commitment to our planet’s sustainability and its impact on our health? Just imagine climate conscious spaces, clinics and hospitals with green spaces and clean air, or finding ways to minimize our biohazardous waste and contemplate our energy sources.
Recently I have had the wonderful to opportunity to engage with some of our local champions in climate change including Dr Melissa Lem, a family physician in Vancouver and the current President-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. She advocates for all things related to environmental health but also speaks to our collective responsibility and to the health benefits of nature – something she does through her role as Director at PaRx, a BC Parks Foundation initiative driven by health-care professionals who want to improve their patients’ health by connecting them to nature.
As an organization, Doctors of BC recognizes the significant impact climate change has on our health and the valuable role physicians can play in communicating about these impacts, as well as contributing to strategies to reduce potential harms. Last year we released our “Climate Change and Human Health” policy statement which outlines our commitments and recommendations. And internally a number of steps are also being taken to reduce Doctors of BC’s carbon footprint such as hosting more remote meetings to reduce the need to travel and help lower overall emissions and implementing a digital workflow structure to reduce staff’s use of paper among many other things.
Small acts, when done as a collective, can have a revolutionary impact. So this Earth Day – and every day – I challenge you to act on one small change to reduce your carbon footprint or to rethink a way in which we can improve our healthcare footprint. Simple changes can be taken to not only improve health outcomes for yourself and your community, but for the collective impact on our world.