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As health professionals in Alberta, we see the health impacts of unmet basic needs and environmental changes. When floods threaten Calgary or High River, or wildfires displace northern communities, we see the lasting physical and mental health struggles for families.

When air pollution descends in the heat of summer, we treat respiratory conditions and worry about the well-being of isolated elderly people. We understand how the environment affects our collective health; and if we want to protect our health now, and that of our children, we have to care for our land, air and water — the backbones for so much that we need and often take for granted.

This provincial election is an important one, not just for Albertans, but for all Canadians.

Our province is in many ways the litmus test for the values we want to uphold as a country as we move forward together in a changing world. Sadly, politics these days is too often focused on what divides us.

In truth, Albertans care about and stand together on the same priorities. Accessible and robust health care, good jobs and wages, education, keeping our loved ones healthy and safe within communities that feel connected, and preserving our access to an enviable range of experiences in nature. All these things affect the health of our communities, when health is seen as a state of fulfillment of a person’s physical, mental and social well-being.

We know nature is good for us. Spending time in nature reduces stress hormones and makes us happier and reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Moms who live in greener areas have babies with healthier birth weights. Kids who spend time in nature have less anxiety and depression and do better in school.

Polls show a majority of Albertans want to protect lands dedicated to the conservation of nature and wildlife. When it comes to our “backyard,” Alberta is truly blessed. We have the majestic eastern slopes of the Rockies, vast boreal forest, turquoise mountain lakes, and massive river systems that we share with our neighbours — plus, our very own UNESCO World Heritage Site at Wood Buffalo National Park.

We have seen too many of these areas threatened by the promise of short-term profit, but Albertans have spoken up before, and we need to remain vigilant to ensure the preservation of Alberta’s natural heritage and ecological integrity.

Currently, only 15.6 per cent of Alberta's land is protected, and even this has been fragmented by intensive human activity. If we want to be left with nature to still enjoy and keep us healthy, we need Alberta to contribute to Canada’s commitment to protect 30 per cent of its land by 2030.

This will not be possible with the current change in policy that splits Alberta Environment and Parks into two ministries, which gravely undermines the ability of the Provincial Parks Act to function properly, and opens up the vast majority of our protected areas to development, mining and deforestation, not to mention the loss of land for the animals and wildlife that live here.

We know lands and water under Indigenous stewardship, such as Indigenous Protected Areas, are healthier and have greater biodiversity, so further investment in these partnerships would benefit all Albertans.

Every day we are confronted with health-related issues that speak to the disconnect our fast-paced society is facing right now — disconnect from each other, and the world around us.

Health providers are recognizing this and there is now a program that allows clinicians to “prescribe nature” because the evidence that time in nature is good for us is really impressive.

In urban environments, natural spaces offer significant benefits. Studies show that people are healthier if they can see three trees from their home, if there is 30 per cent tree canopy cover in their neighbourhood, and if they live 300 metres from the nearest public park or green space.

This 3:30:300 concept needs to be incorporated into all urban planning as part of a “healthy by design” strategy.

Albertans want to protect our land, air and water, and this election, that message must be sent loud and clear: as health-care providers, we ask that you #VoteForYourHealth by choosing candidates who understand that nature is health.

We ask the next government of Alberta to:

  • Reinstate the Ministry of Alberta Environment and Parks and bolster its mandate to protect 30 per cent of Alberta’s land by 2030.
  • Further develop partnerships with Indigenous communities to steward these lands.

Dr. M. Brad Sullivan is a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon and obstetrician at the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert. He has a passion for environmental stewardship and frequently speaks to local physicians about the impact of climate change on health.

During the provincial election, Albertans should demand candidates running for office promote policies to protect the environment, write @andrearhull, Brad Sullivan & Anna Sedlakova #AlbertaElection #abpoli #ClimateAction #AlbertaWildfires

Dr. Andrea Hull is a family physician in Calgary. Dr. Hull is the current chair of the Alberta Regional Committee of CAPE (Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment). Andrea strongly believes in the importance of the interconnection between nature, community and human health. In her free time she enjoys being in nature with family and friends.

Dr. Anna Sedlakova is an emergency physician in Banff. She is an outdoor enthusiast and a mother of three. She believes that the health of our planet and our children are intertwined.