The theme for Earth Day 2021 on April 22 is Restore Our Earth. Restoration is a hopeful word, and hope is an important ingredient in the age of COVID. The impacts of the pandemic have illustrated with painful clarity that the planet faces two crises and they are connected: global environmental degradation and its connection to our health.
We all need to help restore our Earth. In the words of the organizers, “not just because we care about the natural world, but because we live on it. We all need a healthy Earth to support our jobs, livelihoods, health and survival, and happiness. A healthy planet is not an option — it is a necessity.”
Simply put, human health is at stake and the health of our earth’s ecosystems are in crisis. The World Health Organization has declared climate change to be the largest threat to human health this century. The Lancet Countdown report on health and climate change focused their 2019 report on ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate.
Let’s think about the first baby born in our community in 2021. What will we have done for them when they are nine years old in 2030? What kind of life do we envision for them at 29 years old in 2050? Science tells us that by 2030 we need to not only have plans firmly in place to prevent devastating warming of our planet, we need to cut our climate pollution in half. By 2050 at the latest, we need to have reached net-zero greenhouse gas emissions globally.
Healthcare providers recognize that our changing — and increasingly chaotic — climate is threatening to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health. They are aware of the burden that air pollution, wildfires, food shortages, human migration, and worsening mental health problems are having on human health and the cost of delivering care. The most vulnerable face the worst outcomes.
As a result, healthcare providers are becoming increasingly vocal about climate change and its impact on health. Organizations like the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Public Health Association, and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment are pushing for effective climate policies. Locally, semi-retired nurse Judith Fearing recently founded The West Kootenay Network of Healthcare Professionals for a Healthy Climate.
As this pandemic has illustrated so clearly, there is nothing more important than our health. Unless we place solving the climate crisis as the top priority in our COVID-19 recovery, we will continue to damage our health and strain our economy.
For Earth Day let’s embrace the idea of radical transformation to a just and equitable society that takes climate change as seriously as we have COVID. Let’s rally all our resources to ramp up a plan to tackle it, working collaboratively and creatively as is required. This is bigger than COVID; our planetary health is at stake.
If we value the health of the children who will be growing up while the world’s leaders and governments deal with the largest reckoning in our lifetime, then let’s push now for real leadership and action on climate. That leadership needs to come from all of us — community members, business owners, institutions, and all levels of government.
Let’s celebrate this Earth Day as the one where we decide to have hope in restoration and put the health of our planet and the beings living on it first.