Tag Archives: policy

Why climate change should be an electoral issue…

…and why it matters to healthcare

By Elodie Jacquet

As Canadians prepare to head to the polling stations and attack ads seem to be lurking in every corner of the mainstream media, one issue seems to have completely fallen off the radars: climate change. As Jeffrey Simpson reports in a recent column in the Globe and Mail: “In a country with the worst record in the industrialized world for greenhouse gas emissions, you might have thought that the subject of climate change might merit more than a cursory discussion.” As much as the carbon tax was an issue during the last election, carbon-related issues have left the centre stage to be replaced by a much more popular issue, healthcare.

I understand how climate change and its complexities can make for an obscure and intangible threat to citizens and politicians alike. However, scientists have come to an overwhelming consensus that human activities are definitely affecting our climate and in so, shaping our futures. It is time that our government faced this fact and started taking action. Downplaying the issue is not in the best interest of Canada.  Our federal government’s inaction on climate change is undermining our resilience as a country, negatively impacting our long-term economic interests and creating greater health care costs.

So, how does climate actually affect the future of our healthcare system? Let’s look at our own government’s research. The following is an excerpt from the Health Canada website[1]:

Health Canada has identified seven categories of climate-related impacts, and the potential effects these can have on health and well-being.

1-      Temperature-related Morbidity and Mortality

  • Illness related to extreme cold and heat events
  • Respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses
  • Increased occupational health risks

2-      Weather-related Natural Hazards

  • Damaged public health infrastructure
  • Injuries and illnesses
  • Social and mental stress
  • Increased occupational health hazards
  • Population displacement

3-      Air Quality

  • Increased exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollutants and allergens
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Cancer

4-      Water- and Food-borne Contamination

  • Intestinal disorders and illnesses caused by chemical and biological contaminants

5-      Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases

  • Changed patterns of diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and animals

6-      Health Effects of Exposure to Ultraviolet Rays

7-      Socio-economic Impacts on Community Health and Well-being

A changing climate can increase the frequency, intensity or duration of extreme weather conditions which increases risks for vulnerable populations and communities in areas exposed to natural hazards.

  • Demands on Health Care Services – Extra pressure is placed on Health care services by increased demands resulting from weather-related natural hazards, eg. floods.
  • Disruption of Social Networks  –  Power outages can occur as a result of extreme weather-related events, which can affect our ability to communicate during emergencies.
  • Interference with Livelihoods – People experience stress if their livelihoods and productivity are threatened, for example, farmers suffering crop failures and income losses due to droughts.
  • Damage to, or unavailability of, housing and shelter – Climate change can increase the number of extreme weather events which can damage buildings. This causes trauma for people having to relocate, as occurred following the Saguenay River flood in 1996.
  • Damage to critical infrastructures – Virtually all our infrastructures are designed for a specific climate, such as those related to food production, water management, energy production, storm sewer, drainage and sanitation systems, and housing and health infrastructures. Health risks can arise when any one of these systems fails or becomes compromised – as they may in a changing climate.

We all know that the key element to prevent our healthcare costs from going through the roof is prevention. By addressing the challenges of climate change, we should be able to mitigate the effects on our health and on the cost of healthcare, especially for those most vulnerable. And let’s not kid ourselves here: we do have some very vulnerable populations within the confines of our borders. The more we wait, the higher the cost will be, cost of healthcare of course, but also the cost of the lost of competitiveness of Canada on the global stage. While we congratulate ourselves on the soundness of our banking system and on our swift recovery from the recession, we should be thinking about how the changing climate is and will be affecting our ability to remain healthy as a country.

Photo courtesy of Ask the Climate Question initiative in the UK

The Future of BC’s Carbon Tax

On March 17, Carbon Talks hosted its third brown bag dialogue of the year. In the past, greenhouse gas emissions were essentially ‘free’ for the individuals and corporations emitting them, and only the environment paid the full price. During this dialogue, Nancy Olewiler asked “what do people do when they can get something for free? They take as much of it as they can!” The potential solution is BC’s carbon tax.

The carbon tax is a price tag on GHG emissions and an incentive to get off a high carbon diet. Nancy Olewiler led the dialogue participants through the many merits of the policy – the gradually increasing tax rates will give industries time to adjust to the carbon tax. The tax also has a definite certainty to it because new tax rates are embedded into legislation.

But like any newly implemented policy, the carbon tax is not without shortcomings. Both Nancy Olewiler and the dialogue participants raised a number of issues with the policy as well as suggestions for ways to improve the policy.

Public support is critical for any government policy to thrive. In order to gain public support, the government ensured that the carbon tax would be 100% revenue neutral: every dollar of carbon tax collected must return to taxpayers in the form of reductions and credits.

Click to enlarge financial statement for carbon tax.

Problems with this aspect of the carbon tax are already arising – the 2009/10 forecasts indicate that the government will be returning over $2 million more than it will collect. This sort of discrepancy is not sustainable. Like energy, taxpayer dollars cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred among sectors. If the government continues returning more than it collects for the carbon tax, the government will have to cut funding or increase taxes in other areas.

Nancy Olewiler concluded her discussion of the carbon tax by saying that it is too soon to tell statistically if the carbon tax is working. There has been some evident that corporations are paying attention to the tax and changing their business practices. Still, Nancy Olewiler speculated about whether the carbon tax does enough to change behaviour on an individual level. One major concern is that the government will not be able to raise tax rates high enough to stimulate substantial GHG reductions.

How should the government deal with these shortcomings in the future? What will happen to the carbon tax after 2012? Participants at the dialogue made a number of insightful suggestions. One crucial key to future success for the carbon tax is the public’s trust in the policy. To attain this trust, the government needs to communicate the policy’s procedures and successes.

There were some interesting proposals from our dialogue participants – the government could associate the carbon tax with Medical Service Plan reductions in on order to increase the visibility of the tax. Another suggestion for increased visibility was to include a line on pay stubs showing carbon-tax related tax reductions. Everyone at the dialogue seemed to be in agreement: consolidating public support is the best way to help the government’s carbon tax policy have the desired impact now and into the future.