Channeling Our Knowledge, Values and Emotions into Action: A guest blog from Advocacy and Mobilization Program graduate Inês Lopes

Over the last few years amid the Covid-19 pandemic, public awareness has grown regarding the importance of our health, the environment, social justice, and the links between these. The extreme weather events of these past months have once again drawn attention to these interconnected issues.

More people are also experiencing impacts and/or legitimate eco-anxiety arising from a diversity of situations and experiences, from going through direct climate disasters to observing and developing empathetic responses to the ecological crisis. Current environmental issues can bring about a mix of emotions ranging from anger to helplessness, from hope to love – and these can all co-exist.

When possible, these emotions can be channeled positively into action. By working to create a safer and more sustainable environment, we can prevent or reduce the negative physiological, psychological, and community impacts associated with environment and climate change. Our emotions are normal reactions to these events. Finding ways to mitigate many of these various impacts is nevertheless beneficial; in more green and fair societies, people would experience less of many such impacts.

A 2021 paper from The American Psychological Association entitled Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Inequities, Responses highlights how reducing the impact of climate change can improve health outcomes in addition to the beneficial ecological effects. It is important to understand how various social and environmental conditions impact our physical, mental and community health. Environmental preservation and adaptation measures can reduce the degree or frequency of the following impacts:

  • In terms of physical health, a healthier environment can reduce the number of injuries, premature deaths, water-borne or vector-borne diseases, asthma, allergies, exposure to toxins, infections, strokes, breathing difficulties, adverse birth outcomes, and more
  • In terms of mental health, a healthier environment can increase general well-being in a population by reducing levels of depression, stress, anxiety, bereavement, substance abuse, trauma, loss of identity, and suicidal ideation.  It can also increase general life satisfaction
  • At the community health level, tackling climate change can reduce forced displacements and migrations, social instability, interpersonal and intergroup aggression, and the associated feelings of a loss of belonging; loss of confidence in one’s institutions; and cultural losses

The climate emergency is also a social justice issue. Marginalized people are harder hit by climate change, including people with low incomes, children, the elderly, outdoor workers, racialized people, and people with pre-existing health problems or disabilities. Furthermore, they often have less access to health care and other adaptation measures.

Even economists, accountants, and tax experts are increasingly interested in the financial benefits of caring for the environment and health. Investing in environmental conservation also pays off through the “services rendered by nature” (although we also agree with not putting a price on them), infrastructure expenses, insurance costs, and health care savings.

Caring for the environment means caring for our physical, mental, community, cultural, spiritual and economic health, as well as fostering more solidarity and social justice. Taking care of the environment means taking care of the people who consult us, our families, and our colleagues. It means taking care of children concerned about their future and elders in fragile health. It means preventing trauma and destruction here and all over the world, including from forest fires, floods, and hurricanes. It means listening to the words of Indigenous peoples, as well as the farmers and market gardeners who feed us. It means reducing the number of climate refugees across the world. It means mitigating climate change, preserving biodiversity, tackling pollution, and monitoring ecotoxicity. It means realizing our interdependence with nature and with each other. To do this requires we listen to our colleagues, the many scientists, researchers, environmentalists, human rights activists and educators who have been the canaries in the coal mine, who have long suggested healthier paths for humanity to follow.

Health practitioners have seen firsthand the many impacts of climate change and environmental issues on the people who consult us. While participating in the Advocacy and Mobilization Program (AMP) at CAPE, I heard from a healthcare provider who was treating infants in a NICU full of smoke during wildfire season, and many other such personal or professional stories.

We need collective and systemic changes (e.g. laws, economic systems) because they can mitigate impacts. Our governments and businesses are being asked by many to better care for the environment, and in doing so, to take better care of our collective health and well-being, by creating a more just and respectful society for people everywhere.

If you are a healthcare provider who would like to channel your knowledge, values and emotions into action, apply for the next cohort of AMP. This accredited, fully virtual training and professional development program is for healthcare providers who wish to become strong planetary health advocates. Participants receive interactive skills-based training sessions on communications and media, government relations, and planetary health, plus opportunities to talk directly with lawmakers and get involved in CAPE’s campaigns.

Applications are open until August 7th. Learn more here.

Let’s dare to change, sooner rather than later, for our collective wellbeing.

In solidarity,

Inês Lopes

Inês Lopes, Ph.D., is a psychologist who works with children, teens, and adults in Montreal. For the past 20 years, she has also worked on environmental and social education in diverse school, health, ecosocial organizations and cultural settings. Climate justice, human rights, ecosocial documentary, links between environmental issues and health (psychological, physiological and community) are of special interest to her, in local communities and worldwide.  She also advocates for a healthy environment with Mères au front and with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.