Over 100 doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers from across BC will gather in Victoria on November 4th and march on the BC Legislature, calling on the government to act in the face of the growing ecological threat to health. Organized by Doctors for Planetary Health—West Coast, the marchers will demand that the provincial government declare a climate and ecological emergency and act on a range of issues that contribute to these dual crises. This event will be the first doctor and nurse climate rally of its kind in Canada.
An unprecedented editorial published in September in more than 200 leading medical journals reported “that ‘the greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the amount of global temperature rise below 1.5°C and to restore nature’”.
The health consequences of climate change are already being felt in BC. “I saw so many elderly and young people with respiratory and heat-related illness due to the heat dome and wildfires”, said Dr Kyle Merritt, an ER physician in the Interior of BC, “it was the first time I wrote climate change in the chart.”The editorial emphasized that the health impacts of these ecological crises will affect people who are vulnerable, and low-income communities and countries the most. Therefore, it is important, the organizers emphasized, that any action on these ecological crises be undertaken in conjunction with BC’s First Nations and Indigenous people, with a particular focus on addressing social and ecological injustice in BC and around the world, and with due consideration for the rights of future generations to a healthy and sustainable environment.
The doctors take their cue in part from UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who in August described the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a “Code Red for humanity”. But, said the march organizers, we have a BC government that is dragging its heels on the climate emergency.
In a background document, they note that BC is still pushing for new fossil fuel extraction and export and is still providing tax breaks and other forms of support to the fossil fuel industry but has yet to declare a climate emergency. The group calls on the BC government to address these deficiencies, set legally binding emissions targets based on evolving climate science, invest in a regenerative zero emissions economy and ensure a Just Transition for affected workers and communities.
But the organizers emphasize that this is not just about action on the climate emergency, important as that is. As the UN Environment Program (UNEP) recognized in February, the world faces at the same time a crisis of biodiversity loss, a crisis of pollution, and other human-driven ecological crises. For the sake of humanity, doctors are asking for governments to do as the UNEP says, and make peace with nature.
Thus Doctors for Planetary Health - West Coast call on the BC government to return to its commitment to bring in a Species at Risk Act, recognize the rights of nature, bring in an alternative to GDP that truly reflects social and ecological wellbeing and progress, create a Commissioner for Future Generations, and bring in a Wellbeing budget and a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, all measures that have been enacted in similar-sized jurisdictions such as Wales and Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Doctors for Planetary Health - West Coast is a grassroots collective of physicians and nurses from across BC who are working to create an interdisciplinary health movement to address the climate and other ecological crises.