Invest in Public Transit – It Benefits Everyone!

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE

Traffic congestion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is a huge problem.   Many of us agree that we need to expand and improve public transit service to get cars off the road.  Huge strides have been made to improve public transit across the region over the last 10 years by all levels of government.  However, a significant funding gap still exists.  We need to let the candidates running for election know that we see public transit as an essential service that benefits all of us! Find your candidate here: (http://www.qpbriefing.com/2017/01/05/nominated-candidates-for-the-2018-ontario-provincial-election/)

Let your candidates know why public transit should be a priority:

  • It improves air quality, preventing hundreds of early deaths each year
  • It reduces chronic diseases that cost billions of dollars each year
  • It decreases traffic congestion that costs about $6 billion per year   
  • It increases access to jobs and recreation for those who cannot drive or do not have cars 
  • It slows climate climate and helps to secure a healthy future for our children.

Traffic-related air pollution in the GTHA gives rise to about 1000 early deaths and 3000 to 4000 hospital admissions each year.  Air pollution contributes to strokes and heart attacks. It aggravates asthma and respiratory infections.  It increases rates of heart disease and lung disease.   By investing in public transit across the region, we can reduce air pollution, save hundreds of lives each year, and reduce health care spending.

Each year, approximately 7,000 residents in the GTHA will develop heart disease and another 60,000 will develop diabetes.  The rates of these and other chronic diseases can be reduced by increasing levels of physical activity.  Studies have shown that people who take public transit get much of the physical activity needed to maintain their health because they walk or cycle at one or both ends of their transit trip.  By investing in public transit, we can increase physical activity, reduce chronic diseases, prevent hundreds of early deaths each year, and reduce health-related costs by nearly $1 billion each year.

With 7.1 million people living in the GTHA, residents in the region make approximately 13.6 million trips per day.  With the current population, traffic congestion costs us about $6 billion per year in delays, vehicle operating costs, traffic collisions, and lost economic activity.  These delays create stress and lost-time for drivers.  Time that could be spent with family or friends.   Time that could be spent playing soccer or riding a bike.  By investing in public transit, we can reduce traffic congestiondecrease lost time and stress for drivers, and save billions of dollars.

Transit also increases access to jobs, services and recreational opportunities for those who cannot drive or who do not own cars.  In this way, it can increase health, the quality of life, and opportunities for all members in our society.

The World Health Organization has declared climate change to be the greatest public health threat of the 21st century.  In Ontario, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.  Transit generates far fewer greenhouse gases than travel by car.  By investing in transit, we can reduce greenhouse gases, meet our commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, and secure a healthy future for our children.

As we head into a Provincial election it is more important than ever to let your candidates know that public transit is an important investment that will benefit everyone!!  

Find your candidate here: http://www.qpbriefing.com/2017/01/05/nominated-candidates-for-the-2018-ontario-provincial-election/

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Big Step Forward on Agricultural Pesticides in Quebec

Prepared by Randall McQuaker, Pesticides Director, & Kim Perrotta, Executive Director CAPE

On February 19th, the Quebec Minister for Sustainable Development announced a new law for pesticides which represents a huge leap forward for provincial laws in Canada. It includes a ban on five pesticides that are commonly used in the agricultural sector – three neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics), atrazine and chlorpyrifos. Neonics are harmful to bees and many other living organisms in the ecosystem, chlorpyrifos was recently named a “toxicant” to children’s development by the State of California, and atrazine has been banned in Europe for more than a decade.

In July 2015, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to restrict the use of neonics when it passed a regulation that aims to reduce the acreage upon which neonic-treated seeds were used, by 80%, by 2017. That regulation allows farmers to use neonics where an independent pest specialist demonstrates that they are needed to treat an existing pest infestation.

To date, however, the Ontario regulation has fallen far short of achieving the intended goal. New figures from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs show that the number of acres planted with treated seed in 2017 was down by just 22 per cent for corn and 27 per cent for soybeans, compared to 2014. Last year, some 61,500 tonnes of treated seed were sold in Ontario and about 3-million acres were planted with neonic-treated seeds. A new target date for achieving the 80 per cent reduction goal has not been announced.

The new Quebec legislation will also allow farmers to use the banned pesticides with a “prescription” from a certified agricultural specialist. While the regulations take a major step in the right direction, much more is needed. The new regulations do not set clear targets and timelines for the complete elimination of the highest-risk pesticides. And we have concerns that the exceptions allowed with “prescriptions” from agronomists could become the rule, and undermine the intent of the bans. The good news is that a committee, which will include representation by Equiterre and the David Suzuki Foundation, is being established to monitor the implementation of the law.

In the meantime, the case for the complete banning of neonics has gotten stronger. The independent international Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, which has declared that neonics are threatening the ecosystems on which humans depend for food, clothing and shelter, released a new report in February 2018. After analyzing some 200 peer-reviewed scientific studies, the Task Force has found that insect pests quickly develop resistance to neonic pesticides, calling their long-term use into question. The study also notes that alternative practices such as field rotation and planting resistant crop varieties are more effective at reducing pests, less expensive, and less harmful to the environment than application of neonic pesticides.

References:

· Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development, February 19, 2018. Press Release: “Mise en œuvre de la Stratégie québécoise sur les pesticides – Meilleure protection pour la santé, l’environnement et les abeilles.” http://www.mddelcc.gouv.qc.ca/infuseur/communique.asp?no=3921

· Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, February 2018. “Neonicotinoid Regulations for Seed Vendors: End of year reporting (2017).” Access at https://www.ontario.ca/page/neonicotinoid-regulations-seed-vendors#section-5

· Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, 2015. “Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems.” Access at http://www.tfsp.info/assets/WIA_2015.pdf

· Furlan, Lorenzo et al. “An Update on the worldwide integrated assessment (WIA) on systemic insecticides. Part 3: alternatives to systemic insecticides.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 2018. Access at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11356-017-1052-5

Replacing Ontario’s Nuclear Energy?

Photo: Ilker Ender, Flickr, Pickering Nuclear Generating Station 

This blog, prepared by Jack Gibbons of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, is being shared as a guest post to respond to a few CAPE donors who have asked the question: “Where would Ontario get its baseload electricity if it shut down its nuclear plants?”

Guest Post:  Prepared by Jack Gibbons, Ontario Clean Air Alliance, January 2018

For close to 50 years, Ontario has relied on nuclear power to supply a large share of its electricity. In that half century, the cost of nuclear power has climbed steadily, the risk of nuclear accidents has been made terribly real by events in Chernobyl and Fukushima, and no jurisdiction anywhere – including Ontario – has managed to devise a practical solution for dealing with the tonnes of dangerous radioactive waste sitting outside nuclear reactors, including in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area.

In short, nuclear power has largely been a failure. It has never even come close to meeting the claim that power produced from reactors would be “too cheap to meter” and never resolved the inherent dangers of combining highly complex systems with massive failure risks.

It’s little wonder that nuclear is now a “sunset” technology with most places in the world moving rapidly away from a technology that has now been eclipsed by increasingly low-cost renewable energy systems.

Ironically, Ontario was an early adopter on renewable energy with the passage of the Green Energy and Economy Act in 2009. But the nuclear industry and its allies did a good job of blaming costs that were incurred in rebuilding a dilapidated electricity system entirely on the move to adopt a modest amount of green energy. These claims actually never added up, but they made good headlines.

Today, Ontario has reversed course, moving back to a multi-billion dollar emphasis on nuclear and ignoring the fact that renewable power has never been more attractive (prices for both solar and wind set new low records every month it seems) – it cancelled its last procurement round for large renewable projects and just ended its innovative Feed-in Tariff program.

The funny thing is, Ontario actually has a green power advantage many other places can only dream of: proximity to one of the world’s green energy powerhouses. Our neighbour, Quebec, is one of the largest producers of water power in the world. It also has stupendous (and low cost) wind power potential and, like Ontario, more than decent solar power potential. The thing is, by working together, Ontario and Quebec could create a super-powered partnership. Renewable energy works best when distributed over a wide area to compensate for conditions that may not always be favourable everywhere. So Ontario can send Quebec wind power at night or in winter when it is needed by our neighbours, while Quebec can literally store “intermittent” power by using wind or solar rather than water power when those sources are running strong in either province.

Together, we can create a system that is low cost (Quebec has the lowest electricity prices in North America), reliable (through a diverse system that doesn’t leave us dependent on one or two aging nuclear plants), and safe (no waste products or accident risk).

And what can put this partnership over the top is working together to maximize energy efficiency. Energy efficiency has proven to be a very low cost way to keep the lights on in Ontario at just 2 cents per kilowatt hour. If Quebec followed Ontario’s lead in exploiting this tremendous resource, it would be easily able to meet the demand for safe, clean power from both Ontario and a number of U.S. states. It’s a simple recipe for success and Quebec has made it clear it is ready to get things cooking. Now we just have to convince Ontario to get into the kitchen.

Related Posts:

Ontario’s Nuclear Emergency Response Plan is Far from Adequate

Active Transportation Needs a Federal Champion

Twitter Cycling 2*Reprinted with permission of The Hill Times 

Prepared by Kim Perrotta and Judi Varga-Toth, December 11th, 2017

Canada needs a federal champion for active modes of transportation such as cycling and walking.   At present, no federal minister has been assigned responsibility for supporting active transportation in this country.  Mandate letters, used to set priorities for federal ministers, make no mention of active transportation.  This is a problem for so many reasons!

Active transportation is good for health!  Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes affect one in five Canadians and are the cause of 65% of all deaths in Canada.  They cost Canadians about $200 billion per year in lost-time and health care costs.  And the rate of chronic diseases is rising rapidly; by about 14% per year.

Physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for chronic diseases.  Today, only one in five Canadian adults and one in ten Canadian children get the levels of physical activity needed to maintain good health.  Active transportation is an effective way to increase levels of physical activity because it allows people who have little free time to accomplish two tasks at one time.  They can “get exercise” while commuting to work or school.

People who walk or cycle to work live longer, healthier lives.  A five-year study conducted in the UK found that people who walk to work reduce their risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease by 36%.  It found that people who cycle to work reduce their risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes by 40 to 46%.   There is no drug in the world that can deliver that kind of health benefit!

Active transportation reduces emissions of air pollutants.  Air pollution kills tens of thousands of Canadians each year.  In cities, vehicles are often the most significant source of air pollution.  In Toronto, for example, it is estimated that  440 people will die prematurely and 1,700 people will be hospitalized each year because of traffic-related air pollution.   By encouraging people to replace short car trips with walking and cycling trips, we can reduce air pollution, and the heart and lung diseases, hospital admissions, and early deaths related to it.

Active transportation reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to climate change.  Climate change has been declared the most significant public health threat of the 21st century by the World Health Organization.  This summer, 45,000 Canadians were evacuated from their homes by wildfires that have grown in frequency and intensity because of higher temperatures and longer droughts related to climate change.  Active transportation can reduce GHGs by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.   One study estimated that GHGs from vehicles in San Francisco could be reduced by 14% if people in the community increased the number of minutes spent walking and cycling for shorter trips from 4.5 to 22 minutes per day.

Investing in active transportation will produce many other co-benefits.  It can reduce sedentary behaviour and obesity in children.  It will reduce traffic injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists.  It can increase social equity by making it easier for women, teenagers, seniors, and people who live on low incomes, to access jobs and services. It can boost the economy by promoting tourism and local retailers.  It can reduce traffic congestion.  It can reduce health care costs!!

There are many things that federal government could and should do to foster active transportation in Canada.  It should: share gas tax transfers for active mobility; identify a modal share goal for Canada; create a dedicated active transportation infrastructure fund; and invest in cycling tourism; mandate side guards on large trucks; direct Statistics Canada to improve the data collected on cycling; incent the use of e-bikes; address unfair import duties affecting our bicycle industry; invest in cycling infrastructure for our national parks; ensure that the Trans Canada Trail and other trails are safe for cycling and walking.

The federal government has already recognized its role in protecting vulnerable road users. It must now step up and inspire Canadians to make our communities, large and small, places where people of all ages and abilities can get around actively on a daily basis.  We need a federal champion!

Take action!

Treating the climate with coal phase-out

*Reprinted with the permission of National Observer

Op-Ed By Dr. Courtney Howard, President, CAPE December 3, 2017

Canada, the UK and partners announced a global alliance to phase-out coal power at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. It was an honour to speak on behalf of the health community at the launch, as coal-power phase-out is a key recommendation of the 2017 Lancet Countdown Report and the Countdown’s associated UK brief, as well as the Canadian Brief which I co-authored on behalf of the Canadian Public Health Association.

The Lancet tells us that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century…and that tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.

Phasing out coal is about reducing the 44 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions due to coal—and the trauma, displacement and heat-related deaths associated with severe weather events due to climate change. It’s about a future with less burns and cough-inducing smoke clouds from wildfires, less conflict and migration, and less undernourished children.

Phasing out coal is also about seeing less kids with asthma puffers from air pollution—less costly ER visits for asthma, less time off school and work. It’s about less morbidity and deaths from the long-term health impacts of coal-related air pollution—cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, lower respiratory infection. It’s about less neurodevelopmental problems from mercury, and less polluted water and habitat loss from coal extraction.

Health professionals worldwide are beginning to treat climate change with coal phase-out.In Canada, organizations such as the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Canadian Public Health Association have been key contributors to coal phase-out commitments in Ontario, Alberta and Canada-wide.

Earlier at COP23, the World Health Organization Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom, repeated his commitments to make action for a healthy climate one of the four priorities of his presidency, and met with myself and other members of the Global Climate and Health Alliance to discuss collaboration on both adaptation and mitigation work in service of health.

 

At the Global Climate and Health Alliance Summit, held in association with the World Health Organization, we spoke with health professionals from across the world, including medical students, to teach them what advocacy techniques work and who they need to partner with in order to support coal phase-out in their home countries. With income being a major social determinant of health, health professionals believe that active support of workers is key to a just and healthy transition.

The health professions are late to the climate fight, but we learn fast, we don’t need a lot of sleep and we’re used to dealing with crisis.

As we move forwards towards actioning the coal phase-out in Canada and beyond, health professionals will be looking to see as much coal as possible replaced with renewables as opposed to natural gas. An increasing proportion of natural gas in Canada is being produced via hydraulic fracturing—for which increasing studies are demonstrating negative impacts. One assessment of the peer-reviewed literature on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing found that 84 per cent of studies on public health, 69 per cent of studies on water and 85 per cent of studies on air pollution found concerning findings. A direct transition to healthy, low-carbon energy should be our goal.

As an Emergency doctor I know what it’s like to act too slowly and to have patients die. The first time a child died under my care was on a pediatric malnutrition project in the Horn of Africa. It was one of the worst moments of my life. I also know what it’s like to act quickly, to do the right thing, and to pull someone from the spiral back to where we can thrive.

The health professionals of the world are applying the skills they’ve learned from treating people—to work to resuscitating the planet.

COP23 has seen new initiatives, new alliances, and new skills created. In partnership with the global health community and our decision-makers, I’m looking forward to treating the climate with coal phase-out and moving forward to a healthier planet.

Related Links:

Climate Change Health Impacts Demand Urgent Action

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE, November 3, 2017

“The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible – affecting the health of populations around the world, today. Whilst these effects will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable in society, every community will be affected.”

This is one of the conclusions expressed in the new report, The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, that was released on October 31, 2017.  Produced by the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from 24 academic institutions and inter-governmental organizations, the new report identifies 31 indicators that can be used to measure the impact, adaptation, mitigation, economics, and politics of climate change on a global scale.

The Countdown notes that global inaction to mitigate climate change is moving us towards a 2.6°C to 4.8°C increase in the global temperature by the end of the century – “a level which would be disastrous to health even with maximal adaptation efforts”.  It states that “adaptation has limits” and that action is needed to “prevent the potentially irreversible effects of climate change.”

The message delivered by the Countdown is urgent and dire, but not without hope.  It also reports that “Whilst progress has historically been slow, the last five years have seen an accelerated response, and the transition to low-carbon electricity generation now appears inevitable.”

In Canada, the Countdown was released along with The Lancet Briefing for Canadian Policymakers,  authored by CAPE President-Elect, Dr. Courtney Howard, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), and the Lancet Countdown team. The policy brief examines several Countdown indicators that are particularly relevant to Canada.  For example, it reports that annual weather-related disasters in Canada have increased by 44% from 1994-2000 to 2000-2013, and notes that these events have affected hundreds of thousands of Canadians, if not more.

Canadians Impacted by Extreme Weather

  • 2013, Calgary flood – 100,000 people affected
  • 2014, Manitoba flood – 6,900 people affected
  • 2014, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories wildfires – poor air quality from smoke
  • 2015, La Ronge, Saskatchewan wildfires – 13,000 evacuated
  • 2016, Fort McMurray, Alberta wildfires – 88,000 people evacuated
  • 2017, Williams Lake, British Columbia wildfires – 24,000 people evacuated
  • 2017, Calgary and Vancouver – poor air quality from wildfire smoke

The policy brief reports that to meet the Paris Agreement, and keep global temperatures from exceeding a 2°C increase, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced to nearly zero by 2050.  This will require halving emissions every decade between now and then.

Several global policy priorities, which have the potential to produce immediate health benefits as well as long-term climate benefits, are discussed in the policy brief with Canadian data.  These include:

  • the need to replace coal-fired power plants with low to zero emitting sources by 2030;
  • the need to dramatically reduce the use of private motorized vehicles with public transit use, active modes of transportation, and telecommuting; and
  • the need to increase low-meat and plant-rich diets.

For more information, read the Lancet Briefing for Canadian Policymakers and see the CBC interview with CAPE President-Elect Dr. Courtney Howard.

Other Blogs on this topic:

https://physiciansfortheenvironment.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/a-national-cycling-strategy-a-triple-win-for-public-health/

https://physiciansfortheenvironment.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/coal-plants-have-a-significant-impact-on-air-quality-and-health-incomplete-facts-dont-change-the-truth/

https://physiciansfortheenvironment.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/ontarios-coal-plant-phase-out-produced-many-health-and-environmental-benefits/

Bloor Street West Bike Lane shows need for National Active Transportation Strategy

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, October 20, 2017

Last week, Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee decided to maintain the Bloor Street West Bike Lane.  The bike lane was installed on Bloor Street from Shaw Street to Avenue Road as a pilot project for one year.  It was a watershed moment for bike lanes in Toronto because Bloor Street is one of the busiest streets in the city.  But the debate also exemplifies the desperate need for evidence-based direction from the federal government.

Before the installation of the Bloor Street West Bike Lane, this stretch of road was used by approximately 24,000 vehicles and 3,300 cyclists per each weekday, and recorded, on average, 22 collisions involving cyclists each year.  After the installation of the bike lane, cycling increased by 49% to 5,220 cyclists per week day, while the number of vehicle/cyclist conflicts was decreased by 61% (Toronto 2017).

City staff recommended maintaining the Bloor West Bike Lane on the basis of several evaluation studies which found that: a significant number of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians felt the road was safer with the bike lane; driving time along this stretch increased by only 2 to 4 minutes respectively during peak times; customer spending increased among local businesses; and strong support for the bike lane was expressed by cyclists, pedestrians, local residents, and drivers who ride a bicycle on occasion (Toronto, 2017).

Sixty people and organizations were registered for deputations at this Committee meeting. Despite the positive results from the evaluation studies and the passion of the testimonies, two of the six councillors still voted against maintaining the Bloor West Bike Lane.  Councillor Holyday and Councillor Mammoliti were fixated on the cost of installing the bike lanes, the risk of slowing vehicular traffic, and the loss of parking spots.  It was frustrating and disheartening.

Bike lanes reduce injuries and deaths among cyclists.  They increase levels of physical activity, which reduces chronic diseases, deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and health care costs.  Bikes emit no air pollutants and no greenhouse gases.  Bike lanes make jobs, services, and recreational opportunities more accessible to people who cannot drive and to those who cannot afford their own vehicles.  With so many health, environmental, and social benefits, why is it so difficult to get bike lanes installed?

We need to think  about bike lanes differently.  We have to think of them like sidewalks; essential infrastructure that protect people from vehicles while fostering healthy lifestyles.  We have to think of them like soccer fields and hockey arenas; community assets that promote physical activity and social cohesion.  We have to think of them like parks and greenspace; a land use use of land that improves air quality, mitigates climate change, and promotes mental health.

There is a role for the federal government to engage in this debate.  Chronic diseases cost Canada hundreds of billions of dollars each year in lost-time and health care costs.  Bike lanes are a public health priority; one that could be fostered and promoted with a national strategy that includes targets, design criteria, and policies.  Citizens need help getting municipal councillors on side.  The federal government needs to get health care costs under control.  It is time for a National Active Transportation Strategy.

References:

Other Blogs on this topic: