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September 20, 2019

Why Canada's nurses are speaking out for large-scale climate action

Climate Crisis
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Linda Silas | CFNU President

For the second year in a row, severe flooding in my home province of New Brunswick has devastated local communities, forcing families to abandon their homes or bunker down and risk being trapped by the rising waters. Climate change has created a “new normal” of extreme weather events across the country; we can no longer speak of climate change as merely a problem of the future.

An important part of the story – which is too often overlooked – is the health effects of these extreme events. From destructive flooding in New Brunswick and Manitoba to ravaging forest fires in British Columbia and Alberta, thousands of Canadians are currently experiencing post-traumatic stress, on top of the physical impacts these events are having on peoples’ respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Across Canada, nurses are already feeling overwhelmed by understaffed workplaces and a shortage of beds in health care facilities. And as climate change continues to warm our country – which is reportedly taking place at twice the rate of the global average – the number of Canadians in need of care will surely soar alongside our rising temperatures.

As a nurse who is dedicated not only to the health and well-being of Canadians in need but to a broader sense of social justice for all of humanity, I cannot help but cry out for bold and immediate action to mitigate against climate change and adapt to its already dreadful effects. I’m proud to say that over 900 nurses stood with me this past June, voting unanimously for climate action to be a priority for the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions at our biennial convention.

We can each act in our personal day-to-day lives in ways that can make a difference. Eating less meat and dairy, choosing to cycle or take public transit to work and composting our food scraps are all very important. But we must work together collectively to demand change on a vastly larger scale. We need our governments to step up to the plate and fight for a livable planet.

With the power to regulate emissions and fund the infrastructure and innovation required to transform our society, governments are in the driver’s seat when it comes to tackling this crisis. As citizens, we need them to know that we are holding them accountable and that we refuse to accept half-measures as solutions in the face of such far-reaching threats.

As youth climate activist Greta Thunberg recently stated – in response to Canada declaring a climate emergency – “Fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Forget ‘climate-neutral’ and clever accounting. Our emissions must start their way to zero. Now.” Greta is absolutely right. There is no time left for distractions.

I encourage you, fellow Canadians, to join with Greta and millions from around the world in the global climate strikes taking place from September 20-27. If you are in Ottawa on September 27, you are invited to join me as I participate in the strike. In the midst of a federal election campaign, there is no better time to send a clear and powerful message to the Canadian government: large-scale climate action cannot wait.

My professional advice on behalf of Canada’s nurses: fight the climate emergency to renew your hope in a habitable planet. A renewed sense of hope will do wonders for your overall health. But to truly instill hope in you and in those around you, take to the streets for the climate strike.

And don’t forget to vote for climate action in October. Canada has no other option than to get it right. We’ve simply run out of time. In this historic moment, I’m counting on you to be heard.

In solidarity always,

Linda Silas

To find a climate strike event near you, go to:

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