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St. Michael’s physician celebrates 10th year of carbon strike

Toronto, April 22, 2016

By Marc Dodsworth

Dr. Tomislav Svoboda rides a freighter bound for Europe
Dr. Tomislav Svoboda rides a freighter bound for Europe.

Dr. Tomislav Svoboda, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, hasn’t been in a car or plane for 10 years.

Inspired by the 2002 collapse of 3,250 square kilometres of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica, Dr. Svoboda made his first attempt at a “carbon strike” in March of that year.

“I was always involved in the environmentalist scene,” said Dr. Svoboda. “But the sheer magnitude of what happened in Antarctica as a result of human activity was extremely frustrating. I felt like I couldn’t deal with contributing to this any longer.”

He described a carbon strike as the refusal to participate in major greenhouse gas producing activities. In his case, he has chosen to not ride in a car or plane as they are the most energy intensive modes of transportation.

His initial carbon strike lasted from 2002 to 2003 and was met with some social pressure.

“It never felt inconvenient getting around by bicycle, train or bus,” said Dr. Svoboda. “The biggest challenge was communicating to others what I do and why I do it.”

What resulted were some awkward situations in which he didn’t feel comfortable turning down a ride. Such as a meeting in Mississauga that lasted until 2 a.m. where turning down an offer of a ride to his Toronto home would be met with confusion and concern for his safety.

But after learning of the rapid acceleration of loss of the Greenland ice sheets in 2005, Dr. Svoboda recommitted to the strike.

Having not stepped into a car or a plane since April 16, 2006, Dr. Svoboda just celebrated his 10-year anniversary of his carbon strike.

He travelled to Europe by freighter in the summer of that year – a trip that lasted approximately eight days – and again in 2013.

“It affects everything I do,” said Dr. Svoboda. “The desire to live consciously affects my decisions regarding what I eat, where I work, where I travel and how I want to live my life.”

But he says he’s all the better for it, having seen things and met people he wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

“My family, friends and colleagues have been very supportive. I even talk at length about it with my patients, many of whom live in the inner city and don’t drive or ride in cars anyway.”

Dr. Svoboda is the keynote speaker at ClimateFast’s Earth Day event Friday, April 22, 6-9 p.m. at Friends House, 60 Lowther Ave., Toronto.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.