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The Future Age:
Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
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The Future Age: Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
Listen Now

Climate Change and Aging

Episode Summary

Host Zannat Reza and Dr. Trevor Hancock, co-founder of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, retired University of Victoria professor, and activist, as they delve into climate change through the lenses of planetary health and older adults. Trevor introduces the concept of a Well-being Society and the essential economic & mindset shifts that are required to move towards it. This includes innovative policy recommendations, like taxing robots and implementing wealth taxation,and the important changes that can be made locally and municipally.

Zannat and Trevor explore the ways that older and younger generations can be engaged and come together to create these changes, and his real-life work to make this happen in his own community. The episode concludes with a discussion on global awareness, future perspectives, and the potential for older adults to be agents of change. Listeners will be inspired to reassess their values, and join the movement towards a sustainable and thriving society.

Show Notes

Join Zannat Reza and Dr. Trevor Hancock for an inspiring conversation about climate change and aging, its context in planetary health, and the potential to create change through intergenerational engagement. Although it lays out clearly the massive effects of climate change, both on the planet and on human health, particularly for older adults, Zannat & Trevor explore a different and hopeful way forward to a Well-being Society, and the mindset & economic shifts required to achieve that. Prepare to be inspired as they showcase real-life initiatives engaging older adults, youth, and imagine the possibilities of a better and sustainable world.

Episode Guest

Guest Image

Dr. Trevor Hancock

Co-founder, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Zannat Reza: A 2019 report from Environment and Climate Change Canada states that this country is warming at double the global rate, half of which is likely driven by human activity. These extreme hot temperatures will become more frequent and more intense. This will increase the severity of heat waves and lead to increased drought and wildfire risks.

[00:00:20] Now, many of us have felt these effects, but did you know that older adults are especially vulnerable to the effects of extreme temperatures? How can we reimagine healthy aging if we're losing what it means to have a healthy planet?

[00:00:32] I'm Zannat Reza, welcome to The Future Age Podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. If you enjoy this episode, please follow or subscribe on your favorite listening app.

[00:00:45] For this episode, we're exploring the impact of climate change on healthy aging. While the effects continue to be dire, we discuss how to rethink the way we live, restructure our economy and revisit our relationship with nature in order to thrive under these circumstances.

[00:01:01] I spoke to Dr. Trevor Hancock, a public health physician, a retired professor at The University of Victoria, and an activist. He says, while older adults are feeling the early effects of climate change, such as fluctuating temperatures, wildfires, and air pollution, the biggest impact will happen mid to late 21st century.

[00:01:19] In addition to health, extreme temperatures will affect how we grow our food and weather we'll be uprooted from where we live because of safe flooding or wildfires. Trevor tells me that climate change is only one part of the picture.

[00:01:33] Dr. Trevor Hancock: First of all, climate change is one of a series of earth changes that humans have triggered. There's a concept out there called planetary boundaries which looks at a dozen or so key earth systems, climate change being one, biodiversity, pollution, water supply, land use, ozone layers that protects us from UV radiation, and so on. It's not just climate change, it's massive air pollution.

[00:01:57] Zannat Reza: 2021 stats from Health Canada [00:02:00] estimates that air pollution accounts for over 15,000 premature deaths a year.

[00:02:05] Dr. Trevor Hancock: So, all of this together is creating a crisis in what people are calling planetary health, the wellbeing, the health of the planet & it's ecosystems.

[00:02:14] We depend upon those we call them the ecological determinants of health. We depend upon nature's provision of oxygen, water, food, fuels, materials that we build things with, everything we look at around [00:02:30] us that we've built, we've built with materials that come from nature. And so, we're damaging all of these systems all at once and all of them are connected to our health and wellbeing.

[00:02:40] Zannat Reza: In case you're wondering why older people are more vulnerable to extreme weather like a heat wave, it's because of a reduced ability to cool their body through sweating or being able to sense when they're dehydrated. Being on medication can make these effects worse. Having air conditioning, fans, and transportation to get to cooler places are key to preventing health [00:03:00] issues and death. And because immune systems of older people tend to be weaker, they're more susceptible to the increasing number of infectious diseases that are linked to global warming.

[00:03:10] An unpredictable climate makes older people who are in poor health more likely to be socially isolated, and those with hearing or vision impairments more likely to suffer physical and mental health challenges. And older women experience the effects of climate change most, simply because they make up more of the older population, and crucially, because they tend [00:03:30] not to have as much money as their male counterparts.

[00:03:33] The connection between nature and its impact on older adults is fairly clear, as studies show that having access to green spaces and urban gardens is linked to better health, which might include less inflammation, lower risk of heart disease, and slower cognitive decline among other things.

[00:03:48] Overall, people say they're more satisfied with life and feel more socially connected when they get this kind of access to nature. These benefits of connecting with nature, plus the effects of a changing climate led to a call to focus on creating a healthy planet as a global shared purpose. In March 2022, the World Health Organization released the Geneva Charter, which outlines the urgency of creating sustainable wellbeing societies. I asked Trevor to explain the concept of a wellbeing society in more detail.

[00:04:17] Dr. Trevor Hancock: So, what we've got is a system that maximizes economic capital, by damaging or destroying natural capital, and also often harming human and social capital. So, it's a [00:04:30] very distorted system, and so a wellbeing society flips that all on its head. The World Health Organization actually set up a council on the economics of health for all, which reported out in late May at the World Health Assembly. And one of the key things it says, is that we have to shift from putting the economy at the center, to putting people and the planet at the center. And so, a Wellbeing Society is really based on that principle.

[00:04:58] Zannat Reza: Trevor goes on to talk about the five action areas of the Geneva Charter.

[00:05:02] Dr. Trevor Hancock: The first was to sort of respect and cherish and nurture nature. The second was to create a Wellbeing economy. The third was to develop healthy public policies for the common good. Now that means what's a healthy food policy? What's a healthy agricultural policy? What's a healthy housing policy? What's a healthy transportation policy? A policy in those areas that maximizes both human wellbeing and planetary wellbeing at the same time.

[00:05:29] The fourth area was around universal healthcare access, but in the fifth area, interestingly enough, was the addressing the health impacts of the digital transformation. And if you include artificial intelligence, as we should, in that digital transformation, then how do we address that? What are the health implications of that? It's a very fascinating new area to be thinking about. So, putting all of that together is the basis of creating a Wellbeing society.

[00:05:54] Zannat Reza: Trevor tells me about a letter he signed that was sent to Canada's first ministers in 2022 on World Health Day, calling for a wellbeing society. The letter was signed by 82 individuals and 38 organizations, including heavy hitters such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, and the David Suzuki Foundation. I asked him what response they got to this letter?

[00:06:17] Dr. Trevor Hancock: We got a standard formula response from the cabinet office and not much else.

[00:06:22] There's also a growing interest in health education, uh, on planetary health and, it's going to be one of the core principles of a new medical school at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby in British Columbia. Uh, it's been identified as a strategic priority by the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Canada.

[00:06:42] So there's a growing awareness and concern around the country coming out of the health field, but also out of the field of environment and economics. And so, we're beginning to create alliances across those fields.

[00:06:54] Zannat Reza: So, it sounds like with the health organizations, and now we're seeing other organizations from different sectors coming together. But what about everyday people?

[00:07:03] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Well, I think there are several things, so one of course is uh, the simple advocacy role, or self education is a good place to begin to understand, what are the problems with our current economic system, and our current societal focus on the economy, rather than on the wellbeing of the planet.

[00:07:19] Zannat Reza: So, from an advocacy perspective, what are those specific actions that everyday people can take?

[00:07:26] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Well, one thing is to check out your local environmental [00:07:30] organizations and join them in their campaigns that they run, because they're trying to do all of the things we just talked about. Talk to your local council, does it have a climate plan? Does it have a plan to become what we're and others are calling a One Planet Community? Canada has an ecological footprint equivalent to five planets worth. So, each of us, on average, is using the equivalent of five planets worth of biocapacity every year. Well, of course we only have one planet, so we have to reduce our ecological footprint. About two thirds of that is carbon so moving to net-zero carbon economy is absolutely essential in reducing our footprint.

[00:08:13] But what are local municipalities doing to do that? Are they stopping urban sprawl, which is very energy intensive and wasteful? Are they developing intensification within cities? Are they developing walkable & bikable communities? Are they managing [00:08:30] their waste responsibly? Are they supporting clean & green energy? So, there's alot that local municipalities can do, particularly in the areas of urban planning and design, and in transportation. Generally speaking, anything that makes a community more sustainable, makes it more healthy too, and vice versa.

[00:08:48] Zannat Reza: So, what you're describing is basically this concept of creating age-friendly communities, cities, age-friendly societies, and while yes municipalities can take action, where's that money coming from?

[00:09:01] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Well, I think one of the things we have to do, and some of this has to happen particularly at national level, one of the policy recommendations from the World Health Organization when they put it very bluntly, is stop paying for pollution. So, when we subsidize and support the fossil fuel industry, we're actually subsidizing and supporting pollution, we're subsidizing and supporting climate change, and that's crazy.

[00:09:27] Similarly, a lot of our agricultural subsidies and supports are supporting a meat intensive, high energy, high resource use system of agriculture. So, we need to look at where are we spending that money and we need to shift it. Why not take every single penny of that and shift it to supporting clean & green energy yesterday. That's one source of money.

[00:09:50] The other, frankly is, we're a kind of middle taxed country when it comes to where we sit in the world. I have no problem with paying taxes if they're being put to good use. I think that's a good use of my money.

[00:10:01] Zannat Reza: So, these ideas require a shift in mindset. How do we do that?

[00:10:05] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Well, it totally does and, uh, we can talk about changing the economy all we like, but we have to look at the values that underpin that economy. And as long as those values are values of, we want stuff, we want more stuff, we want more money, more vacations, more everything, then we'll never stop the economy from growing, and we’ll, therefore, never stop the economy from undermining the ecological determinants of our health. So, we have to shift those core values.

[00:10:34] I think part of it comes out of a concern for the future, for future generations. So, it's not just about me, it's about future generations. And part of it comes out of reigniting, if you like, our relationship with nature. We have become very separated from nature, and we don't understand our relationship with nature. So, I think we have to look at how do you reignite that nature, part of which is just getting out there and being in nature, or in the case of cities, not trying to get everybody in the city out to nature, but how do we bring nature into the city?

[00:11:07] And another piece of that, that I think is a really interesting area that we need to think more about, is the role of faith communities in all of this. Because pretty much every faith community I know of at some place in it has something about respect for the creator's creation and some aspect of respecting nature.

[00:11:26] And then the third area of course is with young people, and how do we get them engaged with nature out in nature? How do we make this a core element of their curriculum?

[00:11:36] Zannat Reza: So, picking up on your point about engaging young people, I've had conversations with younger colleagues, and what I've heard, is there's a lot of anger among younger generations where they look at older generations and say, look what you've done, this is the state of the planet. So, there is a lot of anger and perhaps there's an opportunity to tap into that anger. But what would be some intergenerational strategies that you would recommend?

[00:12:03] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Well, first of all, I think there is a lot of anger and quite rightly. I mean, our legacy is not a very positive legacy when you look at, uh, what we're leaving for the next generations. I think what we have to do is to, how do you turn that anger into positive energy?

[00:12:21] One of the things that I do when I talk with high school students and young people is, I say, well, yeah, we're going to have to change everything, literally everything. Our core values, our economy, the way we live our lives. But, when you have to change everything, that's also an incredible opportunity. You get an opportunity to reinvent everything.

[00:12:45] And so, how, how does that translate? And that can translate into creating new music that talks about these things, or new theater, or new art, maybe science discovery, it may be faith practice. It's limitless, but it calls for huge amount of creativity, of entrepreneurial thinking, there's actually money to be made in this. There's nothing wrong with making money. I have no problem with that as long as you're making money by doing good.

[00:13:14] Zannat Reza: And so, what do these high school students say to you? How do they react to this?

[00:13:18] Dr. Trevor Hancock: I find generally that message is received well. In terms of intergenerational, I think, one of the things to think about is, that relationship with nature. So, there is a lot of older people, for example, who have a lot of skills in gardening and growing things, in being out in nature, and how do you share those skills? And I think there's opportunities to encourage that. And I think that can be a kind of a two-way street, often what older people lack is the technological skills. So how do you set up something that sets up a kind of mutual learning?

[00:13:52] Zannat Reza: You know, we've had conversations in previous episodes where we talk about this intergenerational mixing and mingling, which we've done in the past; and it's a really strong and proven strategy to combat ageism and all of those negative stereotypes. So, I think it's really win-win on so many different fronts.

[00:14:09] I want to talk a little bit about another concept we've delved into in episode five, which is this idea of creating impact networks. And that's where we put a shared purpose or a challenge in the middle of a network, and then we invite people from across different sectors, or people who are impacted by this issue, to come together and create an interconnected strategy to address the challenge.

[00:14:32] Now, who are some of these key players that you think need to be at the table?

[00:14:37] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Well, interestingly enough, that is the sort of local work that I'm doing. So, I've, over my career, I've worked at all levels from the local to the global. I tend to prefer working locally, I believe that most innovation and change starts locally and spreads upwards. I don't think it starts at the top and spreads down.

[00:14:55] The NGO is called Conversations for One Planet Region, and the idea is really quite simple, and that is we face these huge challenges, the response has to be that we have to become a one planet region, just as Canada has, to become a one planet country. What does that mean? What does that look like? And are we even talking about it? Which we aren't. We're now in the process of convening some key leaders across a range of different areas of government, the private sector, faith communities, other NGOs, cultural organizations. We're going to be meeting sometime in this summer to, I hope, kick off a process of a one to two-to-three-year process of all sorts of different ways of engaging people in this conversation. Whether it's through theater and art events, or through kitchen table conversations, or through neighborhood design charettes, or through citizens assemblies, or whatever tools we can find.

[00:15:57] But how do we engage people? First of all, in understanding the challenges, secondly, in imagining what a better future could look like that was taking us in the direction of being a one planet region, and thirdly, starting to then co-design that. So, it's not enough just to talk about it, what does that look like, and how do we make it happen? So that's the challenge I would put at the center, is how do we make this a one planet region?

[00:16:22] Zannat Reza: What's the awareness out there, in terms of this need for a planetary approach, of planetary health, and working towards a wellbeing society?

[00:16:32] Dr. Trevor Hancock: The fact we're change, seeing changing weather is concentrating people's minds. I don't think the biodiversity crisis has really hit home yet, but it needs to. The pollution crisis likewise. So, I think there's a lot of awareness needed, but at same time, I think there's general sense of unease that, this is not going well, and we need to change direction. And you mentioned the anger of young people who do increasingly understand it. So, we need to understand it, but we can't wait for everybody to get there. So, we need to be moving at the same time as we're trying to raise awareness. And of course, you know, its that old adage, you can get some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time, but you'll get all the people all the time.

[00:17:14] Zannat Reza: So, it really is creating a social movement towards action.

[00:17:19] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Yeah. I very much believe it's gotta be a social movement, but it's gotta be a social movement that includes the private sector, includes government, includes universities, includes faith communities, includes all of the different people and organizations that are part of our lives.

[00:17:35] Zannat Reza: I wondered how Canada compares to the rest of the world in taking action towards planetary health.

[00:17:41] Trevor tells me that we fare poorly, and we need to look at places like New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Scotland, and Wales, who are working towards, or have taken big steps towards creating what's called a wellbeing budget, which sources money from other parts of the economy. But how do we actually make that happen?

[00:17:58] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Well, I think there's some really interesting challenges coming up that are going to change the way we do things. There's this growing awareness of the power of artificial intelligence and uh, I can remember years ago now in Japan, some workers, researchers there saying, we really need to tax robots. Because if robots replace people, they're still in factories, as they increasingly have if you see how much, how automated car production is. They're still generating income for the company, [00:18:30] but in the old days, that income went back to people's wages and went to the government as income tax. Both those revenue streams are cut off, so you have people who are not being employed and you have income taxes that are not being generated. So, tax robots and you can use that money and that's going to be increasing because not just robots in factories, but artificial intelligence replacing all sorts of skills we're beginning to see now, and it's just slowly begin to surface what this might mean. If they're still generating wealth for the corporations, it shouldn't just float the corporations and their shareholders. It needs to flow back into society.

[00:19:09] So you could use that money to create annual income, which people have talked about for some years. And that guaranteed annual income would mean people could then use the time that they're not working, and you'd have to set this up to do it, to do some of the care work that needs doing. So, we've got a crisis of care. We could [00:19:30] pay people to do care work. We could pay people to restore environments, to plant trees, to do all sort of things. So, we might be seeing a shift from salaried paid work in a job, to a combination of a guaranteed annual income and supplemental income, earned income, in order to do the work of caring in society that needs doing.

[00:19:54] Zannat Reza: You know, it's fascinating. Taxing robots. That has not crossed my mind at all, so I find that really cool. So, in Japan, obviously there's a lot more reliance on robots. How would that translate to Canada?

[00:20:08] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Oh, I think it's going to be happening worldwide. Japan is quite ahead of us and also has a much older population than us, by the way. But I think it's going to be happening around the world. I don't know. I'm only just beginning to explore some of the implications of this in my own mind. But I do find that idea of using an income tax on robots, and for that matter the other thing that we have to do is a wealth tax. The level of inequality nationally and globally, is frankly, obscene.

[00:20:38] Once you've got your first billion, how many more billions do you really need? And this great phrase came from French philosopher called Raymond Daron some decades ago, and he said, when inequality becomes too great, the idea of community becomes impossible.

[00:20:56] Zannat Reza: So, I want to focus on older people, older adults, and sometimes the narrative when it comes to climate change, so just bringing it back to that for a second, is this narrative of being vulnerable and we need to protect older adults. Which that's, I feel like one part of the picture, but I do think we need to change the narrative a little bit where older adults are agents of change.

[00:21:21] Do you know of any groups in Canada where older adults, or even other generations or an intergenerational initiative, where people are getting together and actually taking action against climate change and, towards a wellbeing society?

[00:21:37] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Oh, absolutely and the first one that comes to mind, which wasn't specifically about climate change, was the Raging Grannies. Don't know if you've ever heard of the Raging Grannies.

[00:21:46] Zannat Reza: I have not.

[00:21:47] Dr. Trevor Hancock: Well, they're a Victoria, uh, based group of older women, that have been around for decades actually, and they're always at rallies, and they sing great songs and entertain. That's how they [00:22:00] explore their activism but they are a quite radical group actually.

[00:22:09] There are Elders for Forest Protection, or Elders for Old Growth, I think it's called out here in BC, who are a group of elders who are working to protect forests. There's a lot of older people involved in climate action networks here in BC and around the world.

[00:22:21] Zannat Reza: While there may be fruitless finger pointing as to which generation is responsible for the climate crisis, it's clear we need everyone involved., Older adults included. And especially, Indigenous elders who are keepers of knowledge to restore biodiversity and ecosystems. Most importantly, we need to share successes through powerful storytelling.

[00:22:42] All right, Trevor, we're going to shift gears. I'm going to ask you two questions that we ask all our guests. The first one is, finish this sentence in 10 words or less, the future of aging should be...

[00:22:54] Dr. Trevor Hancock: The future of aging should be a last opportunity to contribute to a better future.

[00:22:59] Zannat Reza: Wonderful. Now you said you're 75. Let's time travel to when you're a hundred. What does your ideal life look like?

[00:23:07] Dr. Trevor Hancock: I'd start with the premise that I'm not sure I necessarily want to be 100 years old. It depends on what state of the world is, it depends what state I'm in, in 10 or 15 or 20 years, and I don't see it as some sort of race to live longest.

[00:23:21] There was a wonderful slogan the American Health Foundation had years ago now, decades ago in fact. The secret of life, they said, is to die young, but as late as possible. But that doesn't have to be all the way through to a hundred. So, I want to live, well, I want to have an enjoyable old age, but I also want to leave gracefully when the time is right, or when I decide I've had enough.

[00:23:44] What I do love is the idea that, um, my remains get recycled, and I become part of that tree that you pass in the park, or I become part of that breath of air that you just took or, oddly enough, that I become part of that fish you just ate. So, we actually get recycled, which is and reconnected to nature in a very interesting way when our time is done.

[00:24:11] Zannat Reza: Well, I think that's a great way to wrap this season. Thanks for joining us, Trevor.

[00:24:15] Thanks for joining us for this episode. To learn more and for transcripts, go to

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