Public Health Association of BC Public Health Association of BC

Breakout Session Descriptions

Public Health Summer Institute 2020

Think Globally, Act Locally

Public Health and the Anthropocene

Thursday July 9th & Friday July 10th, 2020



Thank you All for an Excellent 2020 Public Health Summer Institute!

Please stay tuned for the release of the post-summer institute resource package & the call for abstracts for the 2020 fall PHABC conference!


Breakout Session Descriptions

The purpose of the each breakout sessions is to dive in to each session topic with the speaker and to stimulate conversation and discussion between participants while ensuring the discussions link public and population health to the Anthropocene. Check out the session descriptions below, and please note that all session times are in Pacific Daylight Time.

As we get closer to the summer institute we have started posting breakout session summary videos on our new YouTube channel to help you decide which breakout sessions to attend and which speaker you want to engage with! Follow the link below to our channel and start watching!

YouTube – Public Health Summer Institute



Understanding the Anthropocene & its Health Implications

10:30am-11:15am, July 9th, 2020

How Should Canadian Public Health Respond to the Climate Emergency?

Climate Change is both the greatest threat of our time to public health and a great opportunity for improving public health. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how much rapid collective action can be taken to protect and preserve health and wellness and shift economic priorities. The political will for the collective action generated by the SARS CoV2 virus emergency can be harnessed for the climate emergency if we can demonstrate the eminent threat of climate change to health and the societal co-benefits of transformational change in equity, energy policy, food and water security along with other determinants of health. This session will explore opportunities for intersectoral action that turns the climate emergency, fueled by the COVID-19 crisis, to build a better future, bouncing forward from the pandemic instead of bouncing back. It will examine resilience and greenhouse gas mitigation in this context and preview the 2021 release of Natural Resources Canada and Health Canada’s report, The Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate: Advancing our Knowledge for Action. Presented by: Dr. Tim Takaro,


Utilizing a One Health Approach in the Context of a Pandemic

The One Health approach is a collaborative effort across many disciplines to address complex health challenges that arise at the intersection of humans, animals and the environment. The threat of emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases has long been used as a rationale for the One Health approach. Zoonoses are diseases that are transmitted from animals to people (and back again) and there is strong evidence to support that major environmental changes such as deforestation, urbanization and agricultural intensification have driven the emergence of other major zoonoses.

The COVID-19 Pandemic is a stark reminder of the implications of emerging zoonoses, and the need to utilize a One Health approach in both current pandemic response and future pandemic prevention. Participants in this session will reflect on the current pandemic using a One Health approach and think about how lessons learned from this pandemic can be applied in the future when considering pandemic prevention. Presented by: Dr. Katie Clow


Sustainability of Agri-food Systems

The objective of this session will be to share ideas and knowledge about big agriculture and the climate crisis. In this session, we will discuss the main concerns of food production resulting from a changing climate and potential large-scale solutions. We will explore the National Farmer’s Union recent document by Darrin Qualman on Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis (2019) and agroecology as a model for human food provision. According to the NFU, “Agroecology is a holistic approach to food production that uses—and creates—social, cultural, economic, and environmental knowledge to promote food sovereignty, social justice, economic sustainability, and healthy agricultural ecosystems.” Furthermore, we will discuss what it takes to create and support a localized food system through ideas such as peri-urban farms that feed a city or urban agriculture. You can read the report in preparation of the discussion by downloading it from the NFU website: click here. Presented by: Dr. Wanda Martin


Pollution, Ecotoxicity & Health in the Anthropocene

Perhaps the most startling claim made by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health (October 2017) is that  “despite its substantial effects on human health, the economy, and the environment, pollution has been neglected” and its health effects “underestimated in calculations of the global burden of disease”. The Commission estimated “diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 – 16% of all deaths worldwide”.

However, this is an underestimate. Of the three main categories of pollutants, the Commission argues, only one group has been sufficiently well studied that the health effects are understood well enough to include in their estimate. The second category is pollutants where we have some evidence of links to health problems and growing evidence of causation, but not enough to quantify the burden of disease.

The third category includes “new and emerging pollutants” where the health effects are not well understood, such as certain pesticides (e.g. neonicotinoids and glyphosate), nano-particles, pharmaceutical wastes and endocrines disruptors. Many of these are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are widely dispersed in the environment and then bio-accumulate up food chains, a phenomenon known as ecotoxicity. This is why we all carry a body burden of these POPs from before birth.

I have been involved in issues of pollution and ecotoxicity since the early 1980s. In this session, I will briefly outline the Lancet Commission’s report (try to read the Executive Summary beforehand), focusing our discussion on what we need to do in response.. Presented by: Dr. Trevor Hancock


Climate Change & Mental Health

In this session we’ll explore the impacts of climate change on mental health and well-being across a range of acute and chronic hazards. Inequities in climate change and mental health will be discussed and risks to specific populations will be highlighted. Assessment of mental health and psychosocial needs and program monitoring and evaluation in the context of climate change will be described. The session will close with a discussion of the role of mental health in climate change adaptation and opportunities for engagement on this topic. Presented by: Dr. Jura Augustinavicius


Watersheds and Health

Watersheds (also known as river catchments) provide a context to understand land, water and health relationships that are relevant to all peoples, places and our shared planetary home, in ways that have long been championed by Indigenous peoples. This session will explore these connections drawing on perspectives of those whose work engages with watersheds as settings where social, cultural and ecological foundations for health interact. Watersheds are characterized by convergence and confluence where the relationships of nature, society and health can be understood as a whole. Watershed boundaries are usually heights of land, and within these boundaries land, water and people interact: water drains the landscape, flowing to a single collecting stream or river, and all other social jurisdictions and institutions are impacted by these land-water-health interactions, whether through drinking water supply, food production, and habitat for all species who share our collective home. Watersheds offer ecologically coherent entities that can be used to address multiple environmental, socioeconomic, cultural and health objectives together and this session will explore examples that are especially relevant in the Anthropocene. Watershed stewardship exemplifies this by providing safe drinking water, flood mitigation, biodiversity conservation, food production, and other key ecosystem services, which make vital contributions to disease prevention and improved wellbeing. Watershed governance can be seen as an ‘upstream’ public health intervention where engagement from multiple groups, entities, interests and sectors of society can be harnessed to foster regenerative, eco-social approaches to health and respect role of land and water as foundations for health and wellbeing for humans and all our relations. Presented by: Dr. Shannon Waters, Dr. Margot Parkes



Understanding Cultural Transformation / Evolution

1:30pm-2:15pm, July 9th, 2020

Indigenous Approaches to Sustainability

This will be an opportunity for participants to engage in further discussion with Dr. Shannon Waters about the ideas and approaches she will have shared in the morning, both in the plenary and in the break out session on watersheds and health.

Dr. Waters is a Public Health + Preventive Medicine Physician, Connector and Hope Builder. In her current leadership role as Medical Health Officer for the Cowichan Valley Region at Island Health Shannon works to bring a voice to not only the health of her community but to Mother Earth. Shannon is of Hul’qumi’num ancestry from the Stz’uminus First Nation and a member of the Cowichan Watershed Board. Presented by: Dr. Shannon Waters


Rights of Nature, Right to a Healthy Environment

Do we have a right to a healthy environment? Does nature have its own right to exist? With the industrial revolution, nature was increasingly privatized under English law. However, there are growing calls to recognize the rights to and of nature, coming from environmental law organizations, Indigenous nations, judges and governments. Does thinking about nature in terms of rights change our relationship with the natural world and if so, is it for the better? Presented by: Andrew Gage


Ecological Feminist Approaches

Woven through feminist thought is the work of ecological feminists who have developed theories and practices which seek to decentre politics of domination and centre the ethics of creating egalitarian, collaborative and equitable societies. This work challenges oppressive frameworks that have conceptually separated humans from animals and the natural world and pressed humans into oppressive struggles through the institutionalization of discriminatory and violent practices, including patriarchy, colonization and racism. This session will explore some of the key tenets of ecological feminism and integrate critiques and insights from Black and Indigenous feminist movements. We will work together to answer the question: what are some key implications for collective action that arise when thinking through the lens of ecological feminism? Presented by: Dr. Maya Gislason


Faith and Spiritual Issues, Reverence for Nature

This breakout session will explore the context of the Anthropocene from a spiritual perspective.  The discussion will focus on creation story, ways of knowing, perspectives on nature from a range of philosophical traditions and a discussion of our relationship to it.  We will explore the healing properties of nature, and the collective trauma associated with destruction of the natural world. We will explore reverence for life in all its forms including the role of other species and the spirits of both elements and life forms.  We will consider ways in which connection to nature and to each other is health promoting. Presented by: Shannon Turner


Ecological Economics: Fit for Purpose in the 21st Century

One of the key transformations we will need to make if we are to successfully transition to a ‘One Planet’ society is to ditch our current neoliberal economic system and create a new economics of wellbeing. This is a topic I discuss at some length in a recently released report from the National Collaborating Centre on Healthy Public Policy. Framed as an ‘interview’, I argue that our current economic system, by its very nature, creates and fails to account for massive ecological destruction and disgraceful inequalities, both of which have huge impacts on health and wellbeing. In other words, is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Instead, we need a new form of economics, known generally as ecological economics, where the focus is on the wellbeing of both people and the planet. Some of the basic tenets that underlie ecological economics include the fact that the Earth is a finite system, and thus there are limits to growth; the focus is not on economic growth but on a steady state and even de-growth; the GDP is a very misleading indicator and must be replaced; there are three other forms of capital (ecological, social and human) that must be preserved and increased; environmental, social and human costs are not externalities that can be ignored, but must be fully assessed and accounted for, using the precautionary principle; and in the face of limits to economic growth, we cannot hold out the prospect of growth as a way to address poverty. Presented by: Dr. Trevor Hancock


Just Transition / Social Justice Issues

In this group, participants will also be asked to reflect on an existing roles framework, and consider the actions that public health practitioners and organizations can take to centre equity and address massive human-caused ecological changes, including climate change. Participants will also discuss opportunities for public health to disrupt oppressive systems and contribute to a just and sustainable future. Presented by: Pemma Muzumdar

Resources related to the presentation:

  1. Climate Change and Health Equity
  2. Centring equity in emerging public health responses to climate change
  3. Climate change, health equity and public health responses: A curated list


The Work of the Cascade Institute

An opportunity for participants to learn more about the work of the Cascade Institute in conversation with Professor Homer-Dixon. Presented by: Dr. Thomas Homer Dixon



Healthy Communities 2.0 / One Planet Communities

10:30am-11:15am, July 10th, 2020

What is a Sustainable, Just & Healthy Local Food System?

Food is the embodiment of our cultures, values, and relations. When we take a bite of our food, it can become an expression of our sovereignty. But we’ve become disconnected from the land and sea, including the knowledge about where our food comes from and all the hands and minds that contribute to our food systems (e.g., knowledge keepers, elders, farmers, fishers, and chefs etc.). Is the globalized food system weakening our self-determination as a community and society? Since the onset of COVID-19, we are observing a resurgence in backyard growing, community gardens, school gardens, and land stewardship practices to address the emergence of hunger from social-economic hardships. Why does it take a pandemic for us to realize how fragile our food system is? Join us! Let’s explore the complexities of food systems and the role public health can play in strengthening our connection to the food we eat, the communities we live in and the societies we are a part of. Presented by: Richard Han, Aaren Topley


What is a Sustainable, Just & Healthy Local Energy System?

If we can build sustainable homes and sustainable communities, we may be able to make our entire planet sustainable. How exactly do we build sustainable communities? I will offer a list of top ideas to be considered in the (re)development of sustainable communities. When multi-sector co-benefits are considered these actions not only pay for themselves but create new growth opportunities – indeed a green (local) economy is emerging. Then it will be your turn in the breakout session to work together and build upon these concepts and determine what implications our future, sustainable communities, energy and food systems will have on public health and personal action. Presented by: Michael Nemeth


What is a Sustainable, Just & Healthy Local Transportation System?

Most people today understand the environmental rationale for investing in active and public transportation systems; and public health professionals also get that these can also improve health equity by serving marginalized populations.  This session will go a bit deeper to explore a few examples that highlight the complexity of creating transportation systems that work for all. Presented by: Rita Koutsodimos


What is a Sustainable, Just & Healthy Local Housing & Land Use System?

What are our opportunities to bounce forward to a new normal, where health is the core of our built and natural environment? We spend 90% of our time indoors, 80% in an urbanized environment, but 100% of our time in the natural world. We all need clean air to breathe, potable water to drink, a safe roof over our heads, affordable, nutritious food, and social supports to buffer us through tough times. The built environment, the surroundings we have created around us, all have a significant impact on our health (and what keeps us well in the first place). We know some of “the most significant sources of emissions in our country are related to transportation (25%) and buildings (11%)”. How can we collectively advocate for solutions rooted in equity, that reduce fossil fuel use and produce co-benefits in health, resilience, and well-being. “True resilience calls on us to rethink the systems that supply our energy, transportation, food, water, and housing… [and] to eradicate the inequities that magnify vulnerability…” If we support green investments directed at walkable, connected and sustainable communities, we have the potential to create a modern-day village where no one is left behind. The COVID-19 pandemic could allow us to reduce the impact of the public health crisis posed by global warming, build back better, and improve health by improving the environments in which we live, work and play. Presented by: Jade Yehia


Nexus: Interconnections of Equity, Public Health, and Green Infrastructure

The world is quickly becoming more urbanized.  The United Nations estimates that by 2050, 70% of the human population will live in cities.  At the same time, access to nature is increasingly recognized as a strong influence on mental, physical, and emotional well-being.  However, not all urbanites have the same access to nature, and this can cause health disparities that will only become more heightened with climate change.  Recognizing these challenges, the City of Saskatoon has developed a Green Infrastructure Strategy, which outlines ways that green infrastructure can be woven into our urban fabric, while concurrently addressing inequities in the city’s Green Network.  In this session, Jessie will share best practices and lessons learned from the development of the Green Infrastructure Strategy, with the objective of creating cities in harmony with nature wherein all humans can thrive. Presented by: Jessie Best


Zero Food & Packaging Waste in our Communities

In Canada each year approximately $50 billion worth of avoidable food is wasted. Much of this food waste is edible and could be redirected to feed people in our communities. At the same time, much of the packaging and single use plastics ending up in our landfills or escaping into the environment is used to package our food. This packaging serves a number of purposes from food safety to convenience.

Communities experience a significant burden for managing the impacts of food and packaging waste. In the Capital Regional District for example, over one-third of material sent to the landfill is comprised of food or food packaging. In the City of Victoria, plastic food packaging is regularly littered on beaches and parks and the municipality collects over 25,000 single use items a day from waste bins across the public realm.

How do we keep food safe while avoiding food waste and mitigating the environmental impacts of food packaging?

This session will examine the health implications of food waste and packaging and explore specific opportunities to mitigate the impacts and realize the benefits to our communities. Presented by: Dr. Rory Tooke



Creating Local Change

1:30pm-2:30pm, July 10th, 2020

For the final breakout room sessions, participants will be grouped together by locality to discuss how to create change within your local communities.

Creating Change in your Local Community

So, we know that the Anthropocene poses a major threat to health, and that to address it, we will need to bring about major societal transformation, shifting our core values and evolving our culture. We also know that local action can be very important in this process. But what does that mean in practice? What can we do as individual citizens, as professionals, as public health organisations, as part of local, provincial, national or international associations, as members of faith communities or community organisations?  Who are the allies and partners we need to work with? In particular, who are the unusual allies and partners who can help us all make this transition?

What are we going to do in the next 6 months to bring about change? What can you personally commit to doing? Keep in mind the wise words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”.

Some ideas to consider during the session include:

  • Engaging with First Nations
  • Common Action (policy/political)
  • Engaging nurses and the community
  • Common Vision
  • Conversations for a One Planet Region
  • The Role of the Arts
  • Working with local green/social entrepreneur
  • Engaging with Faith Communities