Medical journal calls on Canada to ramp up climate action, curb air pollution

The first recommendation in the report is simply to track the number of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Canada

A new report from one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals says Canada’s failure to cut greenhouse-gas emissions isn’t just killing the planet, it’s killing Canadians.

The report on the health impacts of climate change, published Wednesday in The Lancet, concludes that successfully tackling climate change would be the single biggest thing governments can do to improve human health this century.

Chronic exposure to air pollution from greenhouse-gas-emitting activities is killing an estimated 7,142 Canadians a year, and 2.1 million people worldwide.

Heat waves, forest fires, flooding and major storms are causing more deaths and long-term illnesses but little data is available on how many.

The first recommendation in the report is simply to track the number of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Canada, something that isn’t done at all in most provinces.

Last summer, public-health officials in Quebec said 90 people died during a heat wave. Southern and eastern Ontario suffered the same heat but Ontario doesn’t track heat-related deaths the same way, so nobody knew how many people had been affected in the province next door

Dr. Courtney Howard, an emergency physician from Yellowknife who wrote the Canadian section of the report, said right now the world is on pace for temperature increases we can’t adapt to, resulting in more deaths and disease.

READ MORE: Ignoring climate change poses potential catastrophe for B.C.

READ MORE: B.C. Youtuber exits homemade, air-tight ‘biodome’ after 14 hours

The world’s average surface temperature is already about 1 C warmer than it was in the pre-industrial era, and if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at present levels, the increase will be between 2.6 C and 4.8 C by the end of the century.

“We’re not sure we can adapt to that in a way where we can maintain the same civilizational stability and health-care systems we’re used to,” said Howard. “We’re talking about not just maintaining disease levels, we’re talking about our ability to provide health care.”

Fine particles of pollutants in the air cause premature deaths from heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, acute respiratory infections and chronic lung disease. More frequent heat waves contribute to heat stroke and more intense pollen seasons, which can aggravate allergies and asthma, as can forest fires.

Warmer temperatures are also helping insects thrive, which means more bug-borne illnesses. The incidence of Lyme disease, which is carried by ticks, went up 50 per cent in 2017 alone.

Howard said a new term emerging among mental-health professionals is “eco-anxiety,” describing mental stress caused by climate-related changes — or even just the threat they might occur.

Public-health officials are going to have to adapt their responses to dangers such as forest fires, because the increased intensity and frequency of the fires means more communities have bad air for far longer, she said. Most health authorities will advise people to stay indoors on smoky days, but when those periods last for weeks, that is not a sustainable solution.

In San Francisco this month, smoke from wild fires made the air some of the most dangerous in the world. Doctors told people to stay in, and to wear masks if they absolutely had to go outdoors.

Howard said work is underway to improve smoke forecasting, so people can be told when they can expect to go outdoors and get exercise and sunlight safely during extended smoke warnings.

She said the last few summers have alerted Canadians to what climate change is going to look like, with record-breaking forest-fire seasons in British Columbia in both 2017 and 2018, drought on the Prairies, heat waves in central Canada, and flooding in communities almost from coast to coast. She said some people think this is a new normal — but it’s not.

“It’s going to be worse in 10 years,” she said.

Howard said if we don’t step up our efforts, the change to the world will be massive, including more wars and migration.

“I’m an emergency doctor and I’m working on this because this is an emergency,” she said.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fraser Valley Regional Library branches offer curbside pick up

After two and a half months of being closed, people can once again check books out of the library

Environment Canada warns of ‘severe thunderstorms’ in Fraser Canyon

Weather agency says thunderstorms with strong wind, heavy rain and large hail expected

Pedestrian struck in late-night collision on Highway 1 in Hope

RCMP were on scene at the incident near Flood Hope Road where traffic was rerouted for eight hours

Nahatlatch, Silver Lake and other parks to open Monday, Othello Tunnels stay closed

More options for day-use and camping, starting June 1, in Hope, Fraser Canyon and Manning

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak declared over

Dr. Bonnie Henry hails work done to halt outbreak, which saw more than 130 people contract COVID-19

11 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. as top doc urges caution amid ‘encouraging’ low rates

Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced that two care home outbreaks would be declared over

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids’ camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

VIDEO: NASA astronauts blast off into space on SpaceX rocket

Marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

B.C.’s police watchdog probing death of Richmond man in alleged shoplifting incident

Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is asking any witnesses to come forward

PHOTOS: U.S. cities brace for increasing unrest over police killing of George Floyd

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has fully mobilized the state’s National Guard

Aldergrove zoo to reopen with staff in masks, one-directional visitor experience to tackle COVID-19

Its June 1 reopening will be ushered in by words from Darryl Plecas, Legislative assembly Speaker

$200,000 Maybach impounded after ‘L’ driver caught excessively speeding in Vancouver

Meanwhile, the supervisor sat in the passenger seat, police said

Most Read