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

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

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

Crystal Johns used her lunch break to film her audition video for the Vancouver Canucks.
VIDEO: Former Vees anthem singer wants to bring her voice to the Canucks

Crystal Johns made her audition tape during a lunch break

The Okanagan Regional Library is holding a pair of online contests for its young readers. (File photo)
Okanagan Regional Library challenges young readers

Pair of contests online aimed at kids aged up to 18

Penticton Real Canadian Superstore
New COVID case at Penticton Superstore

The last day the employee worked was Jan. 21

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Flooding has become a reality for many communities in the Okanagan Valley as the region faces more extreme weather storms, blamed on the impact of climate change. (File photo)
Okanagan high target for spring flooding

Higher snowpack and mild winter precipitation levels raise concerns for Canada’s insurance industry

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Auldin Maxwell stacks the 693rd block on the top of record-breaking Jenga tower on Nov. 29. (Submitted)
Salmon Arm boy rests world-record attempt on single Jenga brick

Auldin Maxwell, 12, is now officially a Guinness world record holder.

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Kelowna Fire Department. (FILE)
Early morning downtown Kelowna dumpster fire deemed suspicious

RCMP and the Kelowna Fire Department will conduct investigations into the cause of the blaze

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Most Read