Climate change, community health and resilience
By Sandy Mackay, Healthy Community Planner
Decisions made about how we respond to climate change will impact community health and prosperity. How do we work together to implement practices that both prepare our communities and increase health and well-being?
Health agencies, local and provincial governments, civil society and individuals are increasingly mindful of the effects of climate change on the health and well-being of their communities. Preparation before a crisis and the response during and after is a cross-sectoral challenge, drawing resources and capacity from communities and all levels of government. More than ever, communities recognize that effective resiliency planning requires collaboration between different partners, leveraging the strengths of different sectors towards common goals. Decisions made about how we respond to climate change will impact community health and prosperity. How do we work together to implement practices that both prepare our communities and increase health and well-being?
This November, Shift Collaborative, along with Interior Health and Simon Fraser University hosted the first Making the Links conference to begin connecting issues, sectors and disciplines. Expert speakers from across the world and participants from different levels of government, health, community non-governmental organizations, Indigenous communities, academia and business met in Kelowna to develop collaborative responses to address the effects of climate change while protecting and improving community health and well-being. Over two days, we learned about the impacts of climate change and heard stories of how extreme weather events are impacting health and well-being in Interior communities. Some of the stories, like the impact of fire in the Cariboo Region, highlighted the devastation caused by extreme weather and the remarkable ability of communities to respond to challenges. By connecting with peers across the country, participants developed tools to promote cross-sectoral policies and planning in their own work.
Resilience is a complicated term. By a simple definition it means the capacity to recover quickly, but in the context of a community it becomes more multi-faceted. True community resilience goes beyond simply adapting operations in the face of emergency – it instead recognizes the interrelation and importance of all aspects of community life. A resilient community, for example, does not divorce housing or transportation policy from economic or health decisions. Nor does it separate the responsibilities of decision-makers in each of those sectors from each other, or from their counterparts in other communities or governments. A resilient community doesn’t just measure value by the speed at which it can “return to normal”; instead, it is always seeking to improve the state of “normal,” with an understanding that a better normal means a faster recovery. A resilient community knows that by connecting the sectors, we make each of them more resilient while improving overall health and well-being.
A resilient community doesn’t just measure value by the speed at which it can “return to normal”; instead, it is always seeking to improve the state of “normal,” with an understanding that a better normal means a faster recovery.
BC Healthy Communities tries to implement this type of systemic thinking into all of our projects. When we conduct a housing assessment, for example, we engage with partners from service organizations, Indigenous communities, health, and transportation; not just local government, homeowners, or market renters. Our work in communities embraces cross-sectoral approaches to practical tools like policy, or planning interventions. Though we don’t always think of what we do as “resiliency” planning, the connections we make in communities advance the same goals, and the strategies that improve health and well-being almost always impact community resilience.
More than anything, our experience at Making the Links reminded us that resiliency is an everyday activity. Just like there is no “resilient community,” there is no “healthy community”—only those who have committed to improving well-being for their members. It’s our job as planners and public health professionals to “make the links” between small, everyday progress and the greater goal of communities that will adapt to a changing climate and improve well-being.