Events, News

Bringing People Together – Antonia Sappong

At our March 1st webcast, Antonia Sappong shared the perspective of a health professional about why it is important to talk about and work for climate justice.

Dr. Antonia Sappong – MD, CCFP, B.Sc. Co-Founder PlasticFree Toronto – Bio

General Practitioner, Inner City Health Associates – Seaton House men’s shelter

Dr. Sappong currently works as a Family Doctor with the homeless population in Toronto. She understands the connection between individual health and environmental health, and is a passionate advocate for access to healthy environments and social justice. As Co-Founder of PlasticFree Toronto, she works to educate and inspire her community to pursue low waste and sustainable lifestyles, while also taking action on issues of environmental pollution, climate change, poverty, and institutionalized racism.  PlasticFree Toronto regularly hosts community workshops, political activism seminars, movie-nights, and beach clean-ups. 

Reimagining Planetary Health

Antonia starts with a definition, saying, “So what is planetary health? Basically, this is the understanding that human health is reliant on the health of our ecosystems and our world more broadly. Obviously a healthy ecosystem allows for us to build strong and resilient communities, which allow for things like employment, access to food, access to education, all of the things that allow us to be healthy and thrive. And so when we talk about climate change, we know that it’s going to have profound impacts on human health and they’ve already said that we’re going to see increased heat related illness. We’re going to see increases in vector borne disease. So things like Lyme disease, mosquito-borne diseases. We’re going to see impacts in terms of things like human migration, food insecurity, water insecurity. So, so many things. So we can’t really talk about human health without considering the health of our world.”

She informed, “[t]here’s a new study that basically shows that air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels specifically is responsible for 8.7 million deaths worldwide, which is one in five deaths [directly] attributable to fossil fuels….In Canada, it’s about 13.6% of all deaths…. And this is because air pollution [causes] increased heart disease. It causes lung disease. We know it can lead to cancers. We know it can lead to allergies, it leads to all sorts of problems. So then the question becomes, how do we fix this?”

One of the solutions, she explains, is active transportation. “we know that if we move to active transportation…things like walking, running, cycling, using public transportation, we basically will drop our fossil fuel emissions, which will reduce air pollution…. As well [it will] improve our health because we’ll be moving our bodies. So we’ll see less heart attacks. We’ll see less strokes, we’ll see less diabetes…. So that’s what we mean when we say a co-benefit – there’s benefits for human health in doing this and there’s benefits for the planet.”

A second solution she presents is a healthy diet. She informs, “a diet that’s rich in animal products we know is responsible for, in combination with some other lifestyle factors like drinking, alcohol and smoking and not moving….80% of heart attack, strokes, diabetes, and 30% of all cancers. So a diet that is high in meat, particularly cows, is really not great for us. And it’s not great for the planet…the carbon footprint of things like beef is astronomically higher than things like lentils. So ideally what the solution is, is to shift our diets and our agricultural systems towards more plant-based diets….there’s about a 12% reduction in all-cause mortality if you are vegetarian or vegan compared with if you eat the standard American diet, which is high in sugar salts and animal fats.”

She ends by making the connection between equity and climate, saying that “when we look at these solutions that we’ve proposed, so things like active transportation, things like healthy diets, the question becomes, “can we all access these things?” Because frankly, if we can’t, we will not see the benefits that we need either from an environmental perspective or from a human health perspective. Both of those things require access and access often, especially in today’s world, requires money.”

[W]e need to implement these solutions in our own lives, but we need to be making sure that we are also fighting for the resources for those who do not have access to them….

“[T]hat’s going to look like a lot of different things….fighting for basic guaranteed income, fighting for living wages, fighting for access to free public transportation, all of these sorts of things that we don’t necessarily think of as direct things we need to fight for, for health. They need to be top of our mind because frankly, as Maya Angelou has said, ‘none of us is free until everyone can be free’. And all of us are in this climate crisis together.”

More slides here.

Next, we’ll introduce you to the workshop leaders! Following that, we’ll share some insights gained from attendees through the questions and answers shared.

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