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Addressing Climate Change and Tackling Social Inequities
Climate action (both mitigation and adaptation) can reduce inequities –protecting our most vulnerable populations and ensuring a healthy environment and climate resiliency for current and future generations. Its a social justice and human rights issue. It must start where the need is greatest. It requires information and data on inequitable climate-related health risks facing marginalized individuals and communities. It is led by the community, is informed by their knowledge, experiences, assets and solutions. Equitable climate action must be inclusive. It requires input/engagement from marginalized groups and community allies.
Here are some examples of initiatives that inspire active hope while tackling climate change and inequities.
Generation Green – Halton Climate Collective/Halton Multicultural Council
Generation Green is a youth-led initiative with the goal of engaging Halton students in climate action leadership, and supporting them in their commitment to greenhouse gas emission reductions in order to drive change and action in their communities. Funding for projects under the Generation Green initiative was secured through the Climate Action Fund to the Halton Multicultural Council (HMC), a community-based settlement agency that provides programs and services to immigrant and refugee communities in the Greater Toronto Area. The Halton Multicultural Council and their partner, the Halton Environmental Network, developed and shared educational tools and materials for newcomer youth in Halton to raise awareness and take action on climate change. With support from the Halton Climate Collective, each student completed a project that reduced their community’s greenhouse gas emissions in various areas such as: driving less, planting more trees, eating less meat, using less energy, and sending less waste to landfill. These student-led projects collectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 20 tonnes. The initiatives also show how climate action can achieve immediate health co-benefits, such as improving local air quality by reducing transportation emissions, and encouraging healthy eating and physical activity. These actions offered youth opportunities to engage and to develop leadership skills, while increasing their understanding of personal and local actions that can have an impact on climate change. With a focus on newcomer youth, Generation Green is an excellent example of a climate action initiative that can help build more inclusive, diverse and equitable communities.
A word from Executive Director for the Halton Multicultural Council, Kim Jenkinson:
“This kind of grassroots project serves both to educate youth and to help them gain the skills and the leadership tools, and nurture the hope they need to take action and make a difference. The Halton Environmental Network served as our partners on this project, and not only did they bring their expertise on climate change, they also brought their passion and commitment to creating real change. The youth projects were creative and informed, and the greenhouse gas emissions savings were estimated at 20 tonnes over the collective projects.”
– Kim Jenkinson
A word from Generation Green participant, Alexia Poenaru:
“I had such a great experience at GenGreen last year. The project that we were assigned to do was a good wake up call to the reality that is going on around us and how impactful our everyday decision can be on our environmental footprint. I would definitely recommend everyone to participate in a program like GenGreen, because not only was it very informative and interesting, but also because it was so much fun.”
– Alexia Poenaru, Age 16
Grandpa’s Wisdom – An Algonquin Reflection on West Nile virus and Lyme disease
Grandpa’s Wisdom – An Algonquin Reflection on West Nile virus and Lyme disease is a children’s storybook about vector-borne diseases and Indigenous child health, but it has many stories to share. It is also a story of a relationship between a grandfather and his grandchild, of the healing benefits of connecting with nature, of the need to protect the planet for current and future generations of children, and of the importance of Indigenous knowledge. Author, Mr. Albert Dumont, an Algonquin elder, storyteller, artist and traditional teacher from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, partnered with Ottawa Public Health, to tell this story of 13-year old Mahìngan and his grandfather Mishòmis. Ottawa Public Health commissioned the book and collaborated with Dumont to let Algonquin Anishinaabe communities know that infected ticks are making their way into their region. Climate change has contributed to the spread of the tick that transmits Lyme disease. The story combines public health messages with Indigenous wisdom reminding readers and listeners to “seek out the knowledge keepers”. This is a story of climate adaptation and resiliency, and the message of one Indigenous elder that we to need to “encourage discussions about what we, as a People, will do to stop these diseases before they have a chance to become more common in our community. It should be talked about in schools, community halls and at the supper table.”
A word from the Author, Mr. Albert Dumont:
“This Algonquin, French and English-language storybook is something that my grandchildren and grandchildren’s grandchildren are going to look at, and be proud of their Algonquin heritage. I was happy to partner with Ottawa Public Health on this project. Grandpa’s Wisdom storybook not only shares public health messages and Indigenous knowledge on vector-borne diseases – a climate-related health risk, it also shares the resiliency of our communities as we adapt to a changing climate. All parties involved understood that this project was created as an action of reconciliation, contributing to the restoration of the Algonquin language.”
–Mr. Albert Dumont
Depave Paradise – From parking lot to paradise: Creating green space at St. John Chrysostom Catholic Elementary School
Nature-based solutions have climate benefits as well as health and societal benefits. Depave Paradise, an initiative created by Green Communities Canada, empowers community organizations to create new urban greenspace by tearing up unused pavement and planting gardens – and, is an excellent opportunity to educate the public about building our cities to capture stormwater, grow food, support wildlife, add to the urban tree canopy, and beautify our cities. Depaving by hand connects people to each other and to their neighbourhood, giving them a sense of ownership, and inspiring them to make positive changes in their community.
In 2019, the Windfall Ecology Centre teamed up with the York Catholic District School Board and Evergreen to depave and transform the Kindergarten yard at St. John Chrysostom Catholic Elementary School in Newmarket. Over 150 staff, students, parents, and project partners attended the Depave event and eagerly worked together to green their school’s Kindergarten yard. Using pry bars and wheelbarrows, enthusiastic volunteers got their hands dirty and removed over 70 square meters of pavement to make way for green space for the students. The new Kindergarten yard features native trees, mulch, natural log seating areas, and vertical log stepping posts. The seating areas are gathering place for lessons, stories, sharing and play. Raised garden beds give students an opportunity to grow native plants, flowers and edible plants in the hopes of encouraging butterflies and insects.
A word from Executive Director, Windfall Ecology Centre, Brent Kopperson:
“Windfall was honoured to be part of this project that has shown that local climate action, with communities working together can accomplish big results. Depave Paradise is a great example of climate action with immediate health benefits. Replacing pavement with mulch and native trees helps local bodies of water by allowing excess stormwater to absorb naturally into the ground rather than runoff into storm drains and local streams and rivers. Planting native trees increases the urban tree canopy, reducing surface temperatures within the schoolyard and providing shade for students. Through DePave Paradise projects we hope to create more greenspace where it is most needed.”
- Community Climate Hubs that provide an opportunity for community engagement and build on community assets can help mobilize local climate action – both mitigation and adaption, and build social connections.
“We’re looking at how the systems, resources and assets in our city can be re-envisioned and mobilized to accelerate climate action in a way that is fair and inclusive.… community hubs have an incredible potential role to play in building a low-carbon and equitable city and accelerating neighbourhood climate solutions. Community hubs can also be driving forces to shape and implement Toronto’s TransformTO climate action plan.”
- Urban/community gardens are an example of a nature-based solution that has climate benefits as well as social and health equity benefits. They can provide cooling to urban areas (reduced urban heat island), mitigate air pollution, improve local food security, increase access to healthy foods, improve social cohesion, and provide opportunities for recreation for adults and children alike64.
Example from The Hamilton Community Garden Network
“The Hamilton Community Garden Network (HCGN) program is run by Neighbour to Neighbour Centre to sustain and expand the garden community in Hamilton and support Hamiltonians to use gardens to build the community, enhance the environment and promote wellness.”
- Provision of safe and affordable-housing can help reduce health inequities and reduce vulnerabilities to some climate-related health risks such as exposure to heat and extreme weather events.
Example from The United Way of Greater Toronto and the University Health Network and the City of Toronto, a partnership to:
“create affordable and supportive housing, improve our understanding of patients’ social needs, and lower barriers to access social supports and services.”
- Enhancing urban greenspace with priority given to low-income communities that may have less access to parks and other greenspace can reduce exposure to extreme heat, provide shade and provide opportunities for recreation, physical activity, social cohesion and community building. (PHAC UHI report). One challenging issue is the need to consider the extent to which enhancing neighbourhood greenspace may need to neighbourhood gentrification and increase in property values, making it unaffordable for low income populations.
Example from Peel Priority Tree Planting Tool:
“Peel Region’s Tree Planting Prioritization Program builds on the principles of ecosystem services, environmental justice and social equity to inspire change in social-ecological system dynamics in neighbourhoods and communities across the municipality.” “The overall benefit of ‘Strengthening communities and enhancing social equity’ defines two target benefits: strengthening communities through better canopy cover, and enhancing lower income neighbourhoods through better canopy cover. The opportunity zones for tree planting were defined as residential areas with below average canopy cover in their jurisdiction, and areas with relatively high proportions of low income households, respectively.”
- Youth-led climate action groups have been at the forefront of positive action for climate change and climate justice.
Example from The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition:
“a united front of youth from across Canada tackling the biggest challenge of our generation, the emerging climate crisis. Acting locally, provincially, federally, and internationally, we combine our forces to organize actions, influence government and implement concrete solutions. Working in schools and communities from coast to coast to coast, we are calling for and building a just and prosperous transition to the new Canada we all need to see.”
- Measuring health inequalities can help to better communicate risk, raise awareness of the urgent need for climate action and protect those most at risk.
“In collaboration with other national, provincial and regional organizations, CIHI is promoting the measurement of health inequalities through the reporting of health indicator results by socio-economic status and demographic factors. Measuring health inequalities across subpopulations can help advance health equity — a growing priority for health systems in Canada. Despite improvements in the overall health of Canadians, recent evidence has shown that not all population groups (e.g., low income, rural/remote and racialized groups) have benefited equally.”
Allies of Make it Better
Allies of OPHA’s Make It Better campaign are agencies and organizations that recognize the importance of staying informed, sharing information, and supporting action on climate change. Take a look at the links and initiatives below to learn more about how Make It Better Allies are tackling climate change and related environmental, public health and equity issues.
- Hear from Dr. Charles Gardner about how health and climate change are on the radar at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
- The following examples from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) show how public health is tracking information about climate change and using it to inform planning, programs and services at the local level to protect communities.
- A climate vulnerability assessment examines how local communities are most likely affected by climate change and what some of the health impacts for the region will be, learn more from their report A Changing Climate: Assessing health impacts and vulnerabilities due to climate change within Simcoe Muskoka.
- A GIS story narrative interactively shares this information. It plots the effects of climate change against a geographical snapshot and highlights expected health impacts of climate change.
- The HealthSTATS Climate Change page highlights the most up to date information about climate change and health for the region of Simcoe Muskoka.
- Healthy Schools Day in Canada aims to raise awareness of and encourage action to prevent environmental health risks to children in early learning environments and schools. This year, Healthy Schools Day in Canada is counting down to climate action! Click here to learn more. Pour plus d’informations, cliquez ici.
- The Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment (CPCHE) / Le Partenariat canadien pour la santé des enfants et l’environnement (PCSEE) is an affiliation of groups with overlapping missions to improve children’s environmental health in Canada. Working across traditional boundaries, CPCHE provides common ground for organizations working to protect children’s health from environmental contaminants. CPCHE is a collaborator for the #MakeItBetter campaign to help protect children from the health impacts of climate change.
- The Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors – Ontario Branch (CIPHI) is the front line of Ontario public health – leading, promoting and advocating for the health of all those who live in or visit Ontario – and covering the continuum of environmental public health from food protection, drinking-water quality and air quality, to communicable diseases, climate change and many other environmental health initiatives.
- Asthma Canada is the only national, volunteer-driven charity, solely devoted to enhancing the quality of life for people living with asthma and respiratory allergies. Asthma Canada is committed reducing our impact on the environment and supporting sustainable green initiatives.
- The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. They also support a special interest group around environmental health called the Ontario Nurses for the Environment Interest Group and list environmental determinants of health as a area of focus for policy and political action.
- The Urban Alliance on Race Relations is a non-profit charitable organization that works primarily and proactively with the community, public and private sectors to provide educational programs and research, which are critical in addressing racism in society.
- Pollution Probe Pollution Probe is a Canadian charitable environmental organization (established in 1969) that is a leading agent of change at the intersection of communities, health and environment. Its approach is to define environmental problems through research, to promote understanding through education and to press for practical solutions through advocacy. Pollution Probe seeks to improve the health and well-being of Canadians by advancing policy that achieves positive, tangible environmental change.
- Environmental Defence Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian advocacy organization that works with government, industry, and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.
Your agency or organization can become an ally of Make It Better too! Find out how by connecting with the campaign directly at firstname.lastname@example.org