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COLUMN: Nelson doctor reflects on her new awareness of climate change

‘I previously felt overwhelmed with climate change and felt I couldn’t make a difference’
Lauren Galbraith is a family physician in Nelson. Photo: Submitted

by Lauren Galbraith, MD

Wow, the mountains here look like a backdrop to a movie!” said a young soccer player from the Lower Mainland while she stared across the lake at Elephant Mountain from the Lakeside fields.

It was July, 2006, when my Nelson Selects Under-18 soccer team was selected to host the Girls’ Provincial Rep Soccer tournament. Folks from all over the province descended upon our city and were in awe of its natural beauty. I felt so proud and privileged to have played on these fields since the age of five.

Fast forward to the same date fifteen years later, July, 2021. Had the tournament been taking place then, the mountains would not have been visible due to wildfire smoke and the games would have been canceled due to extreme heat and the worst air quality on record. For our next generation of players, this is not quite the movie set we are hoping for.

I became a mother in 2021. During my son’s first summer, at six months of age there were weeks that we were unable to bring him outside for more than a few minutes at a time due to the heat dome and smoke. We sat for days in our basement with fans blowing on him and cold cloths draped over his body. He had difficulty sleeping as the temperatures in his room rose to over thirty degrees, remaining in the high twenties at night. I felt so helpless that I couldn’t provide a safe environment for this new, beautiful human being. Though we are the lucky ones who have no underlying medical conditions and have a roof over our head to shelter us, many in our community are not so fortunate.

As a family physician I have seen countless negative health impacts of climate change on my patients including breathing problems, water access and mental health issues.

This experience with my son, however, really gave me pause. These dramatic changes to our environment have happened within my short lifetime. I’m not only scared for my patients, but also for my child’s future and that of our most vulnerable society members.

I previously felt overwhelmed with climate change and felt I couldn’t make a difference. Then I met a group of like-minded healthcare professionals called Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health, and got inspired. I have started taking steps to reduce my impact on the planet including retrofitting my home to rid of natural gas, eating local meat and less meat overall, divesting from fossil fuels, biking to work and cutting back on air travel. I encourage others to take even seemingly small steps towards helping our planet as working together can solve these big, overwhelming problems.

I know I can’t do it alone. I need your help too. Have conversations about how climate change is impacting you with your friends, colleagues and family members as they, too, may become inspired to make changes. Our children, my patients and the citizens of the West Kootenays need this from us.

Lauren Galbraith is a family physician in Nelson