Evan Saugstad: Sorry doc, staff shortages will kill us before climate change will


It’s Saturday morning, and as usual I’m watching the mourning news: Global TV in Vancouver is covering the “Doctors of the World” report that a warmer world is an unhealthier place for children. For this, they interviewed a surgeon from Vancouver who participated in drafting this report.

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It’s hard for me to characterize or summarize this interview in a few words, as the distortion of facts, half-truths and circumstances of living in B.C., as presented by this doctor, do not reflect reality.

Yes, our climate is changing, and with that, comes a whole range of positive and negative effects on how we live, including our health. But, to take a page out of David Suzuki’s modus operandi, and many instructors in our education system, and move to scaring our children by telling them that climate change will kill them, is just plain wrong. 

Fearmongering has no place in our society, especially when it’s directed at children who can’t comprehend or ascertain lies from the truths, facts from fiction.

Between now and 2050, more children in B.C. will die from neglect, accidents, lack of access to good health care, and of lifestyle choices than from all climate change impacts.

Before I begin my rant about the good doctors behind this report, a few half-truths and selected facts from the interview.

This doctor made a big deal about the William’s Lake hospital being evacuated in 2017 due to fires and putting patients at risk and creating stress. She made no mention of closures to medical procedures in this same hospital because a) the doctors weren’t working, or b) there weren't enough doctors, which was also putting these same patents at risk and stressing them out.

Incidentally, those wildfires were not all because of climate change. The B.C. government was not adequately resourced to extinguish those fires when they were still small enough to do so. 

Also, there was no mention of facility closures due to the absence of doctors and other healthcare professional in communities such as Fort Nelson, Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, or Fort St. John that reduce our quality of life and stress us out.

This same doctor made a big deal about the medical system trying to address and reduce their use of plastics in health care, or the amount of CO2 they generate. Made no mention of the amount of energy and CO2 their patients, such as myself, generate when we are forced to travel to our big cities because these same doctors refuse to work and provide their services in small, rural northern communities.

From my flat earth viewpoint, having doctors live in and deliver adequate and sufficient healthcare in every community would generate far fewer emissions than what is required for the masses to travel and seek help. Guess that’s our fault as we choose to live where most doctors won’t, or as some doctors say, the government doesn't pay us enough to do that. 

In the B.C. context, references to us not having enough nutritious food, clean water, or clean air to breath are totally misleading. For the most part, these are not climate change issues. These are about ensuring we have clean dirt, clean water, and clean air for our day-to-day activities and lives. Population numbers and our activities will have a far greater impact to these precious resources than a couple of degrees of warming.

Now for my doctor rant.

I currently live in B.C.’s north, and for most of my 60-plus years, have lived in northern B.C. and the Yukon. I like it here, and despite the pitfalls, I make this choice.

For the past eight years, I have lived in Fort St John. In January 2020, I will start over again with my fourth family doctor. I’m lucky to even have a family doctor as thousands across northern B.C. don’t.

I do think about how hard it is for my doctor to really care about me, to understand my life circumstances, when they only see me for a couple years, but I’m still better off than many.

I have written about this conundrum since my days as mayor of Chetwynd and its doctor shortages. Doctor shortages aren’t new, and it appears that if I want to use much the same logic as the doctors who wrote that climate report did, as our climate warms, we will get fewer doctors. 

Is climate change really resulting in fewer doctors being able to survive? One could make that assumption if we only looked at the north, but thankfully, it isn’t true. 

I can say with complete conviction that the shortage of doctors in the north, and the resulting lack of access to good health care, is causing more of our good citizens to live less than optimum lives, and more likely to die prematurely, than all impacts of climate change combined.

Think about that one. On one hand we have doctors spending their time pontificating about climate change and the impact it might have on our lives, while at the same time, they refuse to work where they can help us live healthier lives.

Evan Saugstad is a former mayor of Chetwynd, and lives in Fort St. John.

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