Tag Archives: climate change

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Trevor Hancock is a professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s school of public health and social policy


The Iroquois Confederacy’s Great Law is said to include the principle of making decisions taking into account impacts on the  seventh generation, which means thinking 140 – 175 years ahead. That is a far cry from our modern politicians, who can barely think past the next election, never mind our businesses and stock markets that are too often focused only on the next quarter’s bottom line.

As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, it seems a particularly good time to think about the next 150 years. Of course we can’t predict that far ahead; imagine how much of today’s world we could have predicted in 1867. But there is no doubt that what we do today will have impacts at least 150 years into the future, and probably much further. ...continue reading

genevieve2015-msgDr Genevieve Gabb is a Senior Staff Specialist in General Medicine at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia; she also works at the Veterans Heart Clinic, Repatriation General Hospital, Daw Park,  in ambulatory cardiovascular medicine.  Genevieve has an interest in drug safety, particularly in relation to medicines commonly used in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease


We have scientific consensus that global temperatures are rising.  Despite this, debate and argument continues about whether global warming is occurring, the extent, possible causes and potential solutions to the problem.

In early January 2013, as this debate continued to rage, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology was confronted with a dilemma. Forecast temperatures were so extreme that they exceeded the colour range available for its isotherm charts.  Isotherm charts are used to indicate temperature across the continent, and have lines that join points of equal temperature.  Different colours, starting with cool blues; increasing to yellows and a deep burnt orange are used to show areas of similar temperature.  An ominous, solid black topped the scale, indicating a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius. ...continue reading

Patrick_Kirsten_headshotCrop4Kirsten Patrick is Deputy Editor at CMAJ


This morning I swam at my local YMCA with Canada’s Minister for the Environment and Climate Change. Minister McKenna and I belong to the same Masters Swim Club. I don’t see her as much as I used to….well, I see a great many photos of her on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, but I don’t see her much in the pool. She's a busy lady and last week she attended the ceremony for the signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement on behalf of Canada at UN Headquarters in New York. It was Earth Day – 22 April – and 175 Parties (174 countries and the European Union) signed up to the agreement that day. This number of signatories far exceeded the historical record for first-day signatures to an international agreement. It was joyous occasion in which Canada could and did participate with pride. Like a wedding on a perfect spring day.

But just as a wedding is an ideal thing and marriage a real thing, and confusing the ideal with the real never goes unpunished ...continue reading

NK 2016Nicole Kain is a PhD Candidate in Public Health Sciences at the University of Alberta


Cindy Jardine is a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta


Autumn 2003: Hurricane Juan claims eight lives, destroys countless buildings and residences causing power outages across the Maritimes, and is recorded as the most damaging storm in Halifax’s modern history.

June 2013: Southern Alberta is pummeled by torrential rains, combined with melting ice that causes rivers to overflow their banks; paralyzing communities and resulting in the loss of four lives and an estimated $6 billion in damages. Hospitals are forced to close, physicians can’t get into their offices due washed out roads - including portions of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Summer 2014: the “worst fire season in decades” sees more than 130 wildfires burning in the Northwest Territories ...continue reading

TH - PHSPTrevor Hancock is a professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s school of public health and social policy


In this week of the Paris climate change summit, it is worth considering the health care system’s contribution to climate change and how it can be reduced.

Health care, not surprisingly, is a bit of an energy pig. After all, health care comprises a large part of our economy – about 11% of GDP – and with around 2 million workers, it's the third largest employment sector in Canada after retail and manufacturing. Moreover, our hospitals run 24/7, use a lot of energy-intensive equipment and maintain an even temperature no matter the temperature. That's why hospitals are among the most energy-intensive facilities in our communities. ...continue reading

TH - PHSPTrevor Hancock is a professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s school of public health and social policy


Security has emerged as an important issue in the lead up to this year's federal election in Canada, but the understanding of it by the main parties is very narrow. It is focused largely on policing, criminal justice and the military.

If we look at the definition of security it is “the state of being free from danger or threat”; the dangers and threats we face globally are far greater than those posed by militant fundamentalists or even by criminals. This is not to deny the real danger and sense of threat that some of us experience from such people, nor is it to deny that some people are hurt, or tortured, even killed.

But if we step back and look at the bigger picture, the greatest universal threat to our security and that of our descendants – in Canada and globally - arises from climate change and from other global ecological changes that are underway and that we are causing. ...continue reading

Barb_photoBarbara Sibbald is editor, News and Humanities, at CMAJ


Is Sea Sick a one-woman play or a live TED-esque talk? Hard to know, but harder still to care about applying labels to the medium when the message is so powerful: the ocean’s chemistry is changing with climate change. “It’s warm, breathless and sour,” says Alanna Mitchell, a long-time reporter with The Globe and Mail, turned freelance. And when the ocean dies, so do we.

Mitchell’s international best-seller, Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis (2009; McClelland & Stewart), is now hitting the stage in what is billed as a ‘one-woman nonfiction play’, but is more like an animated lecture, replete with blackboard, albeit with a few theatrical-effects. No matter. If she reaches a new audience, so much the better, and last night she reached a couple of CMAJ editors at Ottawa’s Gladstone theatre.

In a sea-shell, her extensive investigation — 3 years and 13 trips worldwide — led to one conclusion: ...continue reading

Domhnall MacAuleyDomhnall MacAuley is a CMAJ Associate Editor and professor of primary care in Northern Ireland, UK

CMAJ and other medical journals have called for medical leadership on climate change and related issues. Kirsten Patrick’s recent editorial addresses physicians responsibility as agents for change. But what happens if you do speak out? ...continue reading

Kirsten_headshotKirsten Patrick is a Deputy Editor at CMAJ, currently at the IEA World Congress of Epidemiology in Anchorage, Alaska


The 20th International Epidemiology Association World Congress being held in Anchorage, Alaska, this week is focusing on global epidemiology in a changing environment, and particularly, delegates are discussing and learning about the epidemiological effects of climate change. While much research being presented in concurrent sessions and posters is the usual mix of national and regional epidemiology (infectious diseases, nutritional diseases, cancer…), and epidemiological methods research (always interesting to a journal editor), the ‘circumpolar perspective’ is the subject of many sessions. What is happening in the world’s frozen regions as a result of climate change?

It may or may not surprise you to hear that people who live in areas that are frozen year-round aren’t high-fiving each other about the mean increase in temperature of 3°C. They aren’t throwing off their traditional fur clothing in celebration. This is because communities are being destroyed by warming in polar regions. ...continue reading


By Ilona Hale, MD, David Hale, MSc, Env. Mgmt, Courtney Howard, MD, Warren Bell, MD

As physicians we are trained to respond to emergencies – the more serious the diagnosis, the more quickly we respond. The dangers of global warming were recognized by scientists over twenty years ago and there is no longer any serious scientific debate about the existence or cause of anthropogenic climate change. The recently released report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed the many present and future health effects of global warming and climate instability. Increasing drought, food insecurity, extreme weather events, vector-borne disease and wildfires may soon represent some of the most serious threats to human health. Physicians, as guardians of human health, should be actively engaged in addressing this issue. Yet we, as a society and as a profession, are still failing to act in a meaningful and substantive way. Fortunately there are many tools to help us act, one of the most recent being the idea of fossil fuel divestment, similar to the divestment campaign of the 1980s which helped to topple South African apartheid.

The idea of fossil fuel divestment is based on what is referred to as “Terrifying New Math”: Climate experts and governments from around the world have accepted the scientific consensus that an increase in global temperature must be held below 2 degrees Celsius. To remain below this 2-degree target, scientists estimate that we can produce no more than 565 Gt of carbon dioxide. The “terrifying” part is that current known fuel reserves, if burned, represent 2,795 Gt of carbon dioxide. Doing the math, it is evident that this second number is a lot bigger than the first, which means that, if our planet is to survive, most of our current fuel reserves need to stay in the ground - a radical concept challenging our traditional resource-extraction-based approach to economic growth. Clearly, something needs to change.

Despite pledges from governments around the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions, most nations have consistently failed to meet their targets, Canada being among the worst of the offenders.

Expecting that fossil fuel companies themselves will voluntarily move in this direction, leaving their reserves untouched, is unjustified and naive. Corporations simply do what shareholders demand. And therein lies the key to the new divestment campaigns aimed at fossil fuel companies. Proponents are encouraging concerned investors to make their voices heard by withdrawing investments from coal, oil and gas companies, starting with a list of the 200 companies with the largest reserves, and re-directing their investments to other industries that support a healthy climate future. This pressure will provide the stimulus for fossil fuel companies to gradually transition to producing more sustainable forms of energy; it allows them to become part of the solution, building the healthy future that we all want.

Divestment campaigns have been launched at hundreds of colleges and universities, pension funds and religious institutions in a movement that is rapidly gaining momentum. Significantly, members of the British Medical Association have also recently voted to “ transfer their investments from energy companies whose primary business relies upon fossil fuels to those providing renewable energy sources”, the first health organization to do so.

Some investors might fear that divestment could negatively affect their portfolios. On the contrary, many leading economists are predicting an imminent “carbon bubble” based on artificially inflated values of fossil fuel company stocks. This arises from the inclusion of all the reserves which companies hold, without considering that these reserves can never be burned. This “carbon bubble” will leave companies with trillions in “stranded assets” according to the Carbon Tracker Institute, which has links to the London School of Economics. The concept of the carbon bubble has since been supported by the International Energy Agency and the IPCC. Even now, studies looking at divested portfolios found them to provide similar or better returns than their conventional counterparts.

There might also be concerns that abandoning fossil fuel resources in Canada could lead to economic collapse. In fact, the oil and gas industry accounts for only 5% of the Canadian economy. The latest IPCC report concluded that shifting hundreds of billions of dollars into renewable energy from fossil fuels and cutting energy waste would take only 0.06% off of our usual 1.3-3% annual global economic growth. “Waiting to take action will inevitably increase costs, escalate risk, and foreclose options to address the risk.” It has also been estimated that non-fossil fuel industries create 6-8 times as many jobs per dollar invested as fossil fuel companies.

Divestment for physicians is particularly important since we cannot, in good conscience, be strong advocates for addressing climate change while continuing to profit from fossil fuel companies. Physicians, through MD Management, have already made a commitment to divest from other unhealthy industries such as tobacco. Every Canadian physician can start by raising the issue with their investment adviser and encouraging their own university, hospital and medical society to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewable energy sources.

As physicians dedicated to promoting health, we can no longer sit at the bedside while our patient deteriorates. We have more than enough information to start treatment now. Divestment, one of many tools available, is an important first step.

Ilona Hale is a family physician in Kimberly, BC; David Hale is a professional forester with a masters in environmental management; Courtney Howard is an emergency physician in Yellowknife, NT and a board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment; Warren Bell is a family physician in Salmon Arm, BC and a board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.