Opinion: Climate change: Between worry, fatigue and... hope
Published Sunday, July 25, 2021 12:50PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Earlier this week, in her La Presse column titled "Les étés meurtriers" on climate change, Rima Elkouri asked "if the time had not come for scientists to leave their traditional neutral and distant posture and express their concerns clearly.”
Here’s my attempt to offer a response to her call.
I am just about to start my practice as a family physician in Montreal, but for the last decade, in parallel to my medical studies, I have my feet, head and heart in a growing community of health professionals looking at the intersections between climate change and health.
Quite frankly, I am worried, and I get tired.
I am worried about the health of my patients, but also the health of my loved ones, my family and the children I will someday have.
I am worried about the losses we will incur and the grieving we will have to do, collectively.
I don't often voice my worries, because I prefer, as much as possible, to anchor myself in hope and action.
And sometimes I get tired, especially of hearing people in positions of power who prefer to repeat that "it's time to act" rather than simply ... act.
In the past three years, my role at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) has led me to comment publicly on current climate issues, to synthesize complex questions concerning the environmental crisis and our health, and to translate into policy recommendations what the science is telling us very clearly.
Sometimes I feel like I'm saying the exact same things, over and over again - my grandmother once even told me so - but I know that the message is still new for most, that we still, too often, forget what climate change means for our health and well-being, even though it was recognized 12 years ago as the greatest threat to health in the 21st century.
Extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, floods, and wildfires, will lead to deaths, increase pressure on our emergency services, and cause a significant rise in healthcare costs.
Climate change also worsens the severity of seasonal allergies, increases the risk of certain infectious diseases, and will force the displacement of coastal communities.
The medical profession must adapt, and urgently.
Surprisingly, however, climate change is not yet fully integrated into health issues. The opposite is even more true.
What we are experiencing this summer, and what Rima Elkouri describes very well - the heatwaves, the smog episodes, the wildfires, the floods - is rather a foretaste, a prelude to the upheaval to come.
The science is very clear on this point: even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, we will still be experiencing the disastrous effects of climate change for decades to come.
So, even though I am often worried and sometimes tired, I have not yet given up.
While the science paints a pretty bleak picture of the future, it also shows us that by putting health at the heart of the climate issue, we have a real chance to make better choices - individually, and more importantly, collectively.
It shows us that well-designed climate policies can be good for our health.
It shows us that by adopting a national adaptation strategy, we can save lives.
And for me, that's the most beautiful project of all.
Dr. Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers is a Family Physician, Board Member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and President of the Quebec Association of Physicians for the Environment (AQME).