Sheila Cole aims to inspire

Sheila Cole. Photo: Submitted

After decades of advocacy, a local environmentalist looks to the next generation

Environmentalist Sheila Cole began developing sensitivities and health challenges in the mid-1980s.

“I had been very healthy, athletic, extremely energetic, and productive at work,” she recalls. “When I became very environmentally sensitive and also heavily fatigued. I concluded that what was happening to me had something to do with the environment.”

She met others experiencing the same thing. “We were not able to get a lot of help for our health,” she says. “We started working to uncover some of the solutions and then sharing those.”

Through the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, Cole collaborated with others to push for policy that works to cut pollution. The impact of that work has included making the province one of Canada’s first jurisdictions to bring in non-smoking legislation, and pushing for new pesticide bylaws. She also helped advocate for the establishment of the former environmental health centre in Fall River.

Diving into research, Cole worked on many councils, including the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, Canadian Environmental Network, National Pollutant Release Inventory and Chemicals Management Plan. Recalling her own experiences, she delved into issues such as health and environment, climate change, wilderness preservation, and mining.

“Health is the real driver of environmental change, and that continues to be,” she says. “The greatest challenge in front of humanity at this time is to remember and understand the interrelationship of all things, between all things and where environmental health specifically is involved. People who are alive at this time need to understand this relationship and use their capacity to make choices that will support the health of the earth and support their health.”

Understanding that relationship, people can make better decisions for the environment, including water quality, organic eating while reducing consumption, choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle, protecting forests and ensuring their community operates at the highest environmental standards. That, in turn, improves human health.

Elle Canada recently feted her in its green issue for her activism, which she hopes inspires tomorrow’s environmentalists.

“It’s very important for young women to be involved, paying attention to their health and the earth’s health,” she says. “I’m happy that young women will care about my work, be interested in environmental issues themselves and informing themselves … Women need to be healthy and strong to play the leadership role before them at this time in history.”

Cole sees hope for the future.

“I think that we will have a lot of regenerative agriculture and more organic agriculture,” she says. “I hope that we will be protecting our watersheds more than we are now, and we will have dramatically reduced our consumption levels.”

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