The Current

Climate activists should focus on public health to inspire action

There are many predictions that we will see more wild fires in the years ahead, due to our changing climate. We often talk about climate change within the environmental context. But today, we're exploring the link between climate change, and public health...your health.
A trio of single engine water bombers return to Okanagan Lake for more water during efforts to fight the Westside Road wildfire in Kelowna, B.C., July 23, 2015. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber )

I know the forest fires are having an impact on my asthma. It's the frequency with which I take my medicine. You don't think about the impact of climate change on yourself and your life.- Julie Davenport lives in Vernon, British Columbia
Smoke rises from a 7,000 hectare (17,000 acre) fire on the north side of Puntzi Lake, B.C. (BC Wildfire Service/Handout via Reuters )

The wildfires currently choking Western Canada... are choking Julie Davenport in Vernon, B.C. too. For her, the effects of climate change are hitting home, and hitting her health.       

And as we've discussed on this program, these wildfires are only expected to grow worse, as global climate change continues. 

When we talk about climate change, it can often seem like something abstract -- or something our grandchildren will have to deal with. 

But according to the World Health Organization, climate change is actually the biggest global health threat there is in the 21st century. And it's not just being felt by people with breathing problems.

Climate change means more heat stress, more injuries from extreme weather, and more prevalent diseases such as West Nile and Lyme Disease. 

Dr. Ryan Meili is a family physician and an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine, where he heads the Division of Social Accountability. He's also the founding director of Upstream, an organization that brings attention to political issues through public health. Dr. Ryan Meili was in Saskatoon. 

According to Edward Maibach, one of the consequences of climate change affecting public health, could be that it gets more people thinking about climate change, and taking it seriously.   

Edward Maibach is the Director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. He was in Fairfax, Virginia. 

We contacted Health Canada for an interview, but their expert wasn't available to speak with us.  However, it did send a comment. Here's part of it: 

"The  Public Health Agency of Canada is preparing to address potential health effects caused by climate change in much the same way that it prepares for the possibilities of bioterrorism and pandemic influenza. It does this by gathering information about the links between climate change and human health, and creating strategies to prevent and adapt to threats." 

Are you convinced? Does thinking of climate change as a public health problem make you more engaged?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Sonya Buyting and Amil Niazi.


♦ Will wildfire refugees spur action on climate change? - Ryan Meili, Rabble
Climate Change: policy responses to protect public health - The Lancet (pdf)
♦ Climate change as a public health issue: public reactions - BMC Public Health
♦ Proactive Wildfire Threat Reduction - B.C. Ministry, Wildlife Branch (pdf)