Canadian Physicians for Climate Change

Human health is strongly linked to Environmental Health. We spoke to the Canadian Association of Physicianse for the Environment (CAPE), an organisation working to fill that gap by educating physicians on why they should care about climate change.

Listen here or find us on your favorite podcast app.

Why doctors should care about climate change

How many ways can you or I die in? 

According to BBC Science Focus Magazine there are actually only 4 ways the body can die from, if you ignore the circumstances leading up to death. 

These 4 ways are: 

  • Oxygen Starvation
  • High Temperature
  • Chemical Toxins
  • Physical Damage

Since all of these 4 ways of dying are affected by climate change, everyone in society needs to adapt to this new reality, even doctors. 

The mission of a Doctor is to attend to human health. But since human health now is affected by environmental health, one of the best ways doctors can help humans, is to advocate for a clean environment. 

Air Pollution from traffic is one example of how the environment is affecting human health. If every doctor could impact 1 patient to take their bike to work instead of their car, society would both get healthier people, and a healthier environment. 

In today’s episode Great.com Talks With… Robin Edger. 

Robin is the Executive Director and CEO of CAPE (Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment)

Robin explains that the majority of doctors have not been educated in understanding how environmental health correlates to human health. CAPE is working to fill that gap, by educating physicians on why they should care about climate change

Because many people trust nurses and doctors, this group is in fact one of the most suitable groups to advocate for a cleaner environment. 

The United Nations has projected that society needs to make big adaptations before 2030 to avoid potentially irreversible effects of climate change. 

To address this, CAPE released a 2020 health report that showcases how they want the government to address both environmental health and human health. 

If you want to see how CAPE are planning to save 112 000 people’s lives, you can either read the Health Report or watch this 106 sec video on Youtube. 

Want to find out more about the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment – https://cape.ca/

Interview Transcript

[00:00:00] 

Every day you and I get bombarded with negative news. Just like the body becomes what we eat, the mind becomes what we’re putting in. It is important to listen to stories that not only give you hope, but also inspire you and uplift  you. 

[00:00:17] 

In this podcast, we’re interviewing experts who will break down the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. And I promise you, if you listen to this podcast, you’ll not only stay informed but you will also feel more energy in your life. Welcome to Great.com Talks With. 

[00:00:43] 

Today, we have invited the executive director and CEO of Cape and Cape, stands for Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and our guests here is called Robin Edger. And Robin, I want to say welcome to this conversation about human health and connected to the environment that I assume that we’re going to get into this conversation. So welcome to this conversation. Thank you for having me. Yes. 

[00:01:13] 

If I dive directly into a question that’s on my mind when I think of capons, could you help me and listen to understand why climate change is an important problem that doctors and physicians would address if they want to try to improve the life qualities of people? 

[00:01:37] 

Association of Physicians for the Environment is a national member based organization where a physician directs but we have with physician and physician members. Our main focus is on the intersection between human health and environmental health, because we know we know that the health of the environment affects human health very profoundly. In particular, we focus on issues like climate change and we know that climate change, the World Health Organization calls climate change the greatest threat to human health of the 21st century. And it’s it’s already impacting us here in Canada, things from extreme weather events and the injuries and deaths that can result from that and the mental health impacts and issues like we’ve seen incidences of Lyme disease and West Nile and other vector borne diseases increase over time as it gets warmer and warmer in Canada. And these characters, carriers and insects are able to thrive. And then other impacts, even beyond climate change, air quality impacts our health very profoundly as well. We know we did a recent report and we work with some energy economists where we showed that we took a model that Health Canada uses that shows that 14 approximately fourteen thousand six hundred Canadians die prematurely every year, in part due to air pollution. And we looked over the course of the time period between 20, 30 and 20, 50 and looked at Canada. I took climate action to head our climate targets. What would that mean in terms of lives saved? And what we were able to find was it would mean approximately one hundred and twelve thousand lives would be saved, which is a huge figure. That’s about the size of Waterloo’s. So it’s important for our physician members to work on these issues because they care. They care about the health of the planet and also they care about the health of their patients. And that’s who’s been affected by this. 

[00:03:40] 

Ok, that makes it more clear to see that the problem and why you would target climate change just as a way to improve human life, quality and health. Now, you have been selected to lead this organization for an unknown period of time here. And so the background to why you’ve been selected to this position as the executive director and CEO, could you tell us a little bit about your background and environmental? 

[00:04:11] 

Yeah, absolutely, except I’m not a doctor, a lot of times people presume I might be. I didn’t used to work as a civil servant. The Ontario government and I worked in the Ministry of Health, most recently as a senior adviser to the

deputy minister of health. So I drew up that as a background. And then, you know, in a future position, I ended up working, running the Ontario region of clean energy think tank called the Pembina Institute. And we worked in Ontario specifically most on transportation decarbonisation. So, you know, switching our transportation system to one that’s more sustainable either through electrification or through avoidance due to transit or active transportation, like walking and biking. And then we also looked at not even sort of personal transportation, but also how we move goods, because we know that right now about 30 percent of transportation emissions come from freight, mostly from heavy duty vehicles like classic vehicles. So we dealt with that issue there as well, so that I sort of have that joint health and environmental background, which was why this was a dream job for me. 

[00:05:31] 

From having that background and now being in this position where you I guess you’re actually making a change for people’s health, being with Kape. What do you think is important for people to understand? Is there anything that you would like people to understand about the human health environment

[00:05:54] 

You know, we think it’s a particularly important time to be an advocate on this issue. We know that climate change is very urgent. I’m sure you saw the IPCC UN report that made clear back in twenty eighteen that we had 12 years to reorient our economy in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It’s clear the scientific consensus is that we have to get to the point where we’re putting our global emissions in half by 2030 and zeroing out by 2050 if we’re going to maintain the kind of planet that we might want to live. So it’s a very urgent issue and it’s not. You know, climate change is not going to be solved because of one international agreement. We’ve seen the Kyoto agreement be signed. We’ve seen the Paris agreement, we signed a petition just to go up that our international organizations do not have the strength to be able to solve this on their own. This is an issue that’s going to be solved through the thousands of national and subnational battles all over the world. And we have to win them everywhere. So our feeling is we focus very strongly on the federal government and on provincial governments climate policy, and we advocate for better policy. And we do so in a way that I think makes the issue more tangible for people, because we’re not you know, we’re not talking about one and a half degrees of post industrial warming or two degrees or post-industrial warming. It can be difficult to make that tangible. But instead, we’re pointing out the impacts of climate change or air pollution on your health and the health of your loved ones. And I think that really brings it home for people. 

[00:07:39] 

And you almost say that being in the position of a physician, you have some kind of expert knowledge that the government would listen to, and that’s why you would be a suitable candidate to advocate for environmental issues, to sort of. 

[00:07:56] 

I think that’s a great point, although, again, I’m not a physician myself, but a lot of our best spokespeople are some of our board members will be the ones who will speak either with the media or they’ll speak with public policy makers. And I agree with you, I think that physicians carry a lot of weight when they’re talking about health issues. It’s not always obvious to people why environmental health is a human health issue. But once that link is made clear for them that landscape profoundly so. We know right now, for instance, that the federal government is set to spend money in order to recover from the economic disaster created by covid at levels that we haven’t seen since World War Two. And so we’ve been advocating that the government spend in a way that transitions the economy into a sustainable economy. And we were able to just do so in sort of non-traditional ways. So I mentioned, you know, we laid out a plan that would have the government hit our climate targets. And I mentioned that live game just through air quality alone through that. Well, we’re kind of the only group that can bring that argument to the table. You know, we also worked with the economists to show that that sort of plan would create one point three million jobs between 20, 30 and 40, 50. And that’s what’s so important. But other groups kind of bring that piece to the table as well. Where are sort of unique additions to the conversation, I think is the human health angle. 

[00:09:31] 

If we would jump more into detail towards what you said it, it’s not always obvious for people to understand the connection between human health and environment. 

[00:09:41] 

Is there could you help us to break that down even more? Is that possible? 

[00:09:49] 

Sure. Yeah, so, I mean, there are just so many ways in which our health is affected by the environment, just as it’s affected by other determinants of health, like socioeconomic status, et cetera. But, yeah, we know that, you know, the expectation is that extreme heat days in Canada are going to double or triple in the coming decades. And we know that as those extreme heat days increase, both in amounts and in length, we will see more heat related deaths. And unfortunately, studies have shown that that will hit the most impacted people for lack of will impact the most marginalized people first and most profoundly. So, you know, we know that our health is going to be continually impacted over the coming decades. It will be important to continue to articulate that because

unfortunately, humans tend to have a short memory when it comes to these things. So, again, studies have been fairly clear that the new normal just sort of becomes normal relatively quickly. So it’s going to be important that we articulate both how things are changing as they happen and also that we sort of paint pictures of the future as as they might happen, depending on our choices. I hope that’s helpful. 

[00:11:22] 

You’re saying that the heat waves are going to double or triple? Now we’re talking from Canadian point of view and it’s going to be the same throughout the world. So this is an issue for everyone. 

[00:11:35] 

Right. 

[00:11:35] 

So that makes sense to understand how that would cause, I guess, make it much worse for people with illness to deal with that heat wave and I guess put more people into threatening positions now. And that would then increase the number of patients coming to hospitals. So that’s how I see it, at least in my mind. Yeah. 

[00:12:02] 

And there can be some very scary intersections between this and issues like the current pandemic. I guess if there’s and we’ve already seen it in certain areas around the world, thankfully not not here yet, where if there is a climate related disaster and people are forced out of their homes and they’re forced into shared spaces, well, that’s about the last thing that we need during a pandemic where we’re trying to keep everybody apart. So. So, yeah, no, it’s it’s it’s a scary time for public health generally right now. And climate related disasters just make it worse. 

[00:12:45] 

Part of your work, if I understood to correct her, I just read a small part on the website about you also going on like one of the project are doing is educating physicians about the environmental perspective. 

[00:12:59] 

Could you tell us more about why that will be important? 

[00:13:03] 

Yeah, because the the thing is, when physicians went to medical school, they didn’t learn for the most part about the links between environmental health and human health, they’re being focuses on curing the patient populations that that they see rather than advocating for environmental change that will lead for their patient populations not to be sick in the first place. Now that that is slowly changing because of the great work of volunteers in our organization, there’s a very active medical student association whose who’s focused a lot on medical education and adding this element into it. 

[00:13:52] 

But in the absence of that, we can play a role in educating physicians both on how environmental issues will impact their patient populations, but also on how they can advocate for better environmental policy to make sure that it doesn’t happen. So we’ve put together a toolkit where physicians can go online and there are many chapters. And as you imagine, it’s very well, there are a lot of resources and it’s very well cited because our physician numbers sort of require that level of evidentiary basis behind the claims that anyone would make. And physicians can go through that toolkit. And the chapters are thematically about various things. So if you’re a doctor in one area of the country, see an urban area like Toronto, it might make more sense for you to dive into the active transportation section because that’s something that could potentially affect your clients very profoundly. And an issue like that is great for physicians because generally speaking, a physician is going to tell you to get out of your car and get onto your bike or walk as much as possible, because that’s good for your health, even in the absence of any environmental impacts. But then, of course, the great thing is most people there, their carbon emissions profile is a huge part of that is made out by the emissions from your vehicle. So, yeah, we take it very seriously, our responsibility to educate physicians on these issues. And then those who find out about it, of course, are our greatest advocates and as volunteers and board members and are able to create change and are able to, in turn, educate their colleagues on the issues. 

[00:15:46] 

I feel excited thinking about having more awareness in the physician’s field, because they already have that authority kind of power when speaking about topics that is important. 

[00:15:57] 

I assume that every sector needs to do internal education. And hearing that you are focusing on helping that sector physician, I guess maybe that would be you’re adding to solving the problem in an angle that I guess not many people or organizations could do so in that way. But now that makes me excited to hear that this exists. 

[00:16:30] 

I think that’s right. And one, we put a lot of trust in our health professionals, physicians, nurses, like we poll after poll, they’ll have polls that ask the public who are the most the professions are that they trust and the professions

that always come first and second. Are nurses and doctors usually in that order? And so, yeah, if where you we put so much trust in our health professionals and for good reason. And if as an organization that can bring together those physicians and we also try to reach out as much as possible to other health professionals like nurses and have them be advocates for those. Yeah, those are those are groups of people that we want to hear from, particularly on human health issues, which climate change is. So so, yeah, it’s it’s an important, important job that I got here and I like it. 

[00:17:22] 

So far, it’s easy for me to understand why policymakers would be important players and in the work that kept us and physicians, if you will, talk towards the people, the normal people, to those who are not doctors, and how do they correlate to keep then the work that you do? 

[00:17:45] 

How would you fit those people into the picture? 

[00:17:48] 

Sure. So we would interact with the general public and a lot of different ways now. About two thirds of our members are actually not physicians. So even just the emails that we send out, the meetings, we have regional meetings across the country of our volunteers. Many of those people will not be health professionals that we would be interacting with and that help us out there. They’re just people who I think understand that that climate change is a human health issue. They’re passionate about the work that we do. But then also we’re fairly lucky in that we’re able to generate media interest in a lot of the work that we do. So, you know, we’ll put out a report recently I mentioned we put out what we called a healthy recovery report, which is very focused on recommendations from the federal government on how they can spend their economic recovery funds in a way that will transition to a sustainable economy. And when we put out reports like that, well, we’ll write op ed that will get picked up in newspapers and will do interviews with the media, both podcasts and television and radio. And we tend to have a really good pickup, I think, in part because we’re talking about the issue in such a tangible way. So I think if you’re a member of the media, it’s you know, that your readership is going to be very interested to hear about impacts on their health and their loved ones. Perhaps you’re less likely to kind of retread the stories that make it maybe a little less tangible or are talking about polar bears or something where it’s a bit more of an interest, I suppose, although I I’m very interested in that, obviously. 

[00:19:39] 

And then I think we’re also lucky in that although not every newspaper across the country has an environmental reporter, although that some do and that’s growing and they all have health reporters. So often we’re able to speak with the health reporters of the various newspapers across the country. And that’s kind of neat because then this story is showing up in our part of the paper that you’re not necessarily used to seeing it in the health section, which is important because it’s a health issue. So, yeah, we would tend to interact with the public that way. And then, of course, more and more, it’s also through social media, whether it’s Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, more and more people are interacting, interacting with us that way. We produced a social media video that we launched at the same time as our report that last time I checked has been viewed by seventy five thousand people through our various platforms, which is quite a bit more reach than I think we’ve ever had in the past, just by developing a report and putting it out there, because not not everyone is willing to read a 30 page report. And I get that we all have busy lives, but a lot of people are willing to watch the 90 second video and at least get the main points. So, yeah, lots of different ways to interact with the public including podcasts like this. So, yeah, we’re always, always happy musicians. 

[00:21:10] 

And climate change and human health is a topic that relates to everyone, so supporting and supporting the mission that you’re doing is actually supporting my own life and so on. 

[00:21:20] 

So if people would like to support the work that you’re doing, what kind of support is needed in this? 

[00:21:29] 

So we have mean, first and foremost, we need your energy. So if you’re going to keep that AP dossier and sign up to volunteer, we have regional committees across the country that we would love to connect you with and get you started on that. With our recent Health Recovery Report, we have a way through the website where if you’re in Canada, you can send the report to your elected official and encourage them to act on the recommendations. And that’s obviously the website. We would recommend that you do that. You know, I would be remiss as the leader of the organization if I didn’t mention that you can also, of course, donate to our work because that’s that’s important. And that’s how we have the resources to do the work that we do. But, yeah, it’s just the energy. It’s the energy and the passion of our volunteers that keep us all going and keep us effective. 

[00:22:23] 

Hmm, so to become a volunteer, you would go to Cape Dot and then, yes, fine, become a member, right?

[00:22:32] 

Yes, exactly. Now, listen, this is a taste. 

[00:22:36] 

This is a small taste of all the work that you’re doing, obviously. 

[00:22:39] 

So for at the end of this interview here, could you say anything important that you think that we missed that you really would like to address here in the city before we kind of start to close this? 

[00:22:56] 

No, I mean, I think this has been very comprehensive. Thank you very much for all your great questions. I really enjoyed discussing our work. But I think the main thing, a great starting point is this recent healthy recovery report that we put out because it is so comprehensive. So although not everyone won’t read the report necessarily be animated by every little piece, if you’re interested in renewable energy or if you’re interested in using that renewable energy to make our transportation systems more sustainable or to make our our homes and buildings more sustainable, or maybe your health professional and you’re interested in making health care more sustainable. There are a lot of emissions wrapped up in the provision of health care. And we’ve got a home for you here to do that. We work on all those issues. We have people who are passionate about all those things. So, yeah, I would just encourage your listeners to check out our website, get involved and just know that we can’t do this right without you. 

END OF TRANSCRIPT