Mentee Stories: Celia Walker

 After international work and studies, Celia applies her knowledge within her own backyard, in Vancouver.

After international work and studies, Celia applies her knowledge within her own backyard, in Vancouver.

Celia is a well-traveled Global Health masters graduate and as a result, an incredibly charismatic storyteller. Her studies have taken her from the Netherlands, to learning about traditional health care in India, to working on a clinical trial in Botswana. “One thing I began to realize over the year is that in most cases, we cannot divorce the major global health challenges we are facing today from the threat of climate change,” Celia says.

After a transformative year of international studies and clinical work, Celia was determined to apply her knowledge within her own backyard. Her ‘climate reckoning’, as she calls it, happened while working in Northern British Columbia. Reading through charts of children with infectious diseases, she started to notice trends. “The most significant being high rates of respiratory illness and asthma exacerbations from areas close to extractive industry and communities that have been subjected to extreme wildfire seasons,” said Celia. As soon as she learned this, she found connections of climate change and health elsewhere, such as lyme disease, cholera, heat related deaths and more. Celia shared, "I knew if I was going to pursue a career researching and talking about global health solutions abroad or in my own backyard, I needed to start talking about climate solutions as well."

Now based in Vancouver, Celia is the research coordinator at the BC Children’s Hospital. As a Climate Guides Mentee, she aimed to communicate the complex relationship between human health and the health of our planet. She interviewed physicians about how they realized the impact of climate change on the health of the population they serve (their ‘AHA-moment’). She also questioned the impact of the extractive industry on their patients’ health. Celia distilled four months of insight-filled interviews into a 7-minute video, which intertwines human health into the climate change narrative. This video will be released on Thursday, July 26th. 

 Celia matching her interviewee, Dr. Shannon Waters (centre) and videographer Uytae Lee. 

Celia matching her interviewee, Dr. Shannon Waters (centre) and videographer Uytae Lee. 

 Dr. Shannon Waters is a medical health officer in her home territory with the Stz'uminus First Nation of Cowichan Valley. 

Dr. Shannon Waters is a medical health officer in her home territory with the Stz'uminus First Nation of Cowichan Valley. 

“When climate change is framed as a health issue, rather than simply an environmental issue or an economic challenge, it becomes painstakingly clear that we are facing a predicament that strikes at the heart of humanity,” Celia explains.

Physicians are often trusted, powerful, frontline responders to the health effects of climate change. They see prolonged impacts of drought, heat related deaths, asthma from wildfires, increases in disease, injury from extreme weather events, malnourished children from food insecurity, and many more. “Climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century,” states the World Health Organization. Yet, Celia recognized it is often missed or misunderstood both within the public and within policy-level decision-making. She is just the person to tell this story.

Celia says, “by understanding climate change as a health threat, it puts a human face on an issue that can at times feel incredibly distant from our daily lives and makes this multifaceted and overwhelming issue a deeply personal one.”

One of Celia’s interviewees, Dr. Terri Aldred from the Tl’Azt’En Nation shared similar thoughts. “Because health is something we can all relate on, perhaps it can provide a unifying key to get people on the same page when it comes to talking about climate action,” she says. Dr. Aldred serves First Nations communities that live closest to the land, yet are some of the most vulnerable people to the health impacts of climate change. A Coast Salish physician, Dr. Shannon Waters said, “we really need to be coming together as indigenous and non indigenous people to talk about how do we protect this valued resource and how can we move together to protect the land and mitigate pressures going forward.”

Celia’s mentor Amy Lubik was instrumental in introducing her to several physicians through her membership to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Amy holds a PhD in Cancer Research and works at the BC College of Family Physicians. Since joining Climate Guides, Celia has also become a member of CAPE and even presented her work to the board. Beyond developing professional connections with Amy, Celia is “eternally grateful” for her personal connection. In Celia’s words, “absolutely more than anything, seeing and hearing about the meaning Amy has derived from being apart of climate action has inspired me to ensure that no matter the career path I take, I am apart of it too.”

 Celia and her mentor Amy Lubik.

Celia and her mentor Amy Lubik.

Caroline Merner