A dress rehearsal for the climate crisis

Maxime Bilodeau

Special Collaboration

13 June 2020

Une répétition générale pour la crise climatique

Illustration: Sébastien Thibault
The COVID-19, we were not offered the luxury of time; the climate emergency, on the contrary, we offer, can be the same too, believes Céline Campagna.

This text is part of the special issue to climate Action

It has never been so much talked about public health in this spring of covidien, which has put, and still puts, on the competent authorities to the test. Without waiting for the dust settles, we need to learn from this episode pandemic in the prospect of the inevitable climate crisis, argues Céline Campagna, scientific director of the programme climate Change and health, national Institute of public health of Quebec (INSPQ).


Some have hinted that the COVID-19 was due to climate change. The link between the two is it proven ?

There is no scientific demonstration that establishes that the pandemic was caused by the warming of the climate. Nothing allows us to affirm without any doubt. That said, one can only assume that climate change will expose us — and this is already the case — with extreme weather events more frequent and more serious. Infectious diseases related to the disruption of ecosystems,as is probably the COVID-19, are also likely to increase. The new coronavirus is a zoonosis, that is to say that the pathogen causing the human infection is of animal origin. And this is not the only zoonotic disease that has made headlines recently ; Lyme disease and Zika are two other examples.

Are there other parallel àdresser between the crises of health and climate ?

The pandemic shows us how should be manage the construction of the transition climate. It is the evidence that politicians, if they give the opportunity, can base their decisions on what the scientists say, to the public health in this case. I do not see why they could not listen to the climate scientists ! This seravraiment interesting to observe if the channels of communication remain open between the political and the scientific. There was of course a particular context, that of the state health emergency, to facilitate the exchange this spring. This is what differentiates fundamentally these two crises : the COVID-19, we were not offered the luxury of time ; the climate emergency, on the contrary, provides us with, perhaps even too much.

Public Health in quebec and she was ready to face this pandemic, which seemed to take the world of short ?

I can’t pronounce myself, since I am an integral part. I know, however, that she did her best. Its primary mandate is, after all, to cope with the crises. It gives the adequate tools poury achieve this, such as the ongoing monitoring of health problems and their cause, in a preventive perspective. This is the theory ; in practice, it has been two decades that the public Health is facing cuts and the subsequent Quebec. Result : it is the poor relation of our health system. Assert that it has prevented 1000 deaths is still less eye-catching than saying ” we saved 1000 lives. And yet, from an economic point of view, we would be richer by reasoning as well. Each time that a hospitalization is avoided, it is society at large that wins.

This reasoning carries over to the climate issue…

Certainly. It is better to be ready to face the waves frequent heat, the repeated episodes of flooding and the violent tails of hurricanes than to repair the broken pots. Develop the territory in a perspective of climate change, in verdissant our living environments and arranged to promote active transportation for example, we would save billions of dollars. I also look forward to see the effect of the decrease of the pollution due to the COVID-19 admissions to the hospital. Among other work, the conclusions of which will be interesting, there are those relating to mental health. I’m especially curious to see how it may be affected by the accumulation of crises — live an episode of flooding, and then a health crisis for example.

If there was a lesson to be learned from the episode COVID-19, this would be which for you ?

It took a health crisis, we broke out the face to remind us that life is precious, that our collective decisions are taken to promote the well-being. However, we tend to lose sight of this evidence, in particular for economic reasons. I hope that this humanism remains at the forefront and guide our decisions for the future. For this, you need to be careful that the economic recovery is not synonymous with cuts and major austerity, in the name of debt reduction. The temptation will be strong to get back in our old slippers. Fortunately, it is enough to open our eyes to see that beautiful adaptation initiatives to climate change are already underway currently to the four corners of Quebec. We are champions of the green economy, sustainable development and social innovation. Let’s seize this opportunity.

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