Scientists unite to shift focus from climate change to health impacts

A 2022 report from the Public Health Agency of Canada called climate change “the greatest health threat facing humanity and the livability of the planet.”

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EDMONTON — Bodies and minds are as affected by climate change as sea ice and forests, says Sherilee Harper, a scientist at the University of Alberta.

“Climate change affects everything we care about,” he said. “It’s not just an environmental issue.”

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That’s why Harper, along with about 30 colleagues from disciplines as broad as economics and epidemiology, have come together in what she calls Canada’s first university center to change the view of climate change from an environmental problem to a threat to health. Human health.

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“The goal of the center is to help people see that every decision about climate change is a health decision,” said Harper, a professor at the School of Public Health and vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s top scientific body. world on the subject. affair.

“Every climate change research project has health implications.”

Take bike lanes as an example.

City planners see them as a way to reduce car exhaust emissions. But cycling also improves health.

“There is a lot of power in framing climate change as a health issue,” Harper said. “There is research that shows that if we frame it as a health problem, it inspires more action than if we frame it as an environmental problem or an economic issue.”

Canada is warming at twice the rate of the global average, and extensive research already shows that rising temperatures are increasing health problems.

A 2022 report from the Public Health Agency of Canada called climate change “the greatest health threat facing humanity and the livability of the planet.”

Smoke from wildfires, which last summer caused Canada to have some of the worst air quality in the world, damages lung function, especially in children. Diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile are spreading as the parasites that transmit them take advantage of new habitats. Diarrhea is becoming more common as warmer waters harbor more bacteria.

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There are also mental health impacts, from the acute stress suffered by those forced to flee the flames to the widespread sense of loss and grief as people mourn a familiar environment that has been transformed into something more. Often, the physical and mental effects occur at the same time, complementing each other.

And Harper’s own experience after last year’s bushfires will sound familiar to many.

“I have two small children. We were stuck inside all summer. “That was really difficult.”

The threats are international.

The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.

The Center for Health and Climate Change will be officially announced Tuesday at an event featuring Canada’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Theresa Tam. For now, it will primarily be a network of scientists, First Nations knowledge keepers and students who agree that such interdisciplinary work is necessary and who plan to share ideas and research.

These centers already exist in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, Harper said.

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He said the Alberta center will be more than just a talk for experts. It will also undertake promotion and public dissemination.

“We believe that in this era of misinformation and disinformation it is really important to have a place that can mobilize evidence-based advocacy. “It is providing evidence so that politicians can make decisions based on that evidence.”

The center will fill a big gap in Canada’s climate change research community, Harper says.

“Research is being done on the topic, but it is not connected and the researchers are not connected to each other. “Climate change is, by definition, a very interdisciplinary issue.”

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