Aaron Wherry of CBC’s Ottawa parliamentary bureau states that Like the pandemic, climate change causes the poor and the frail to suffer most. We need to prepare. What does he proscribe.
“Climate change,” Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, wrote in a report on the public health impacts of climate change‘s introduction, “is an escalating public health emergency, and we need to start treating it that way.”
It’s sad that a couple of hundred people died due to the heat wave, but calling it a public health emergency, when we have just come through a pandemic that was killing that number of people every day seems like an insult to those who lost family to Covid-19.
Ryan Ness, the adaptation research director for the institute and co-author of the report, said in an interview on Friday. “…there is a certain amount of climate change that we can no longer avoid. And the only way to really deal with that is to prepare, to adapt and to become more resilient to this change in climate.”
Which we are doing, though I don’t disagree that more planning and work will need to be done.
The institute’s report estimates that increased economic, social and health care costs related to several of the effects of climate change — ground-level ozone (smog), soaring heat and the spread of Lyme disease — will amount to billions of dollars by mid-century, even in a “low-emission” scenario. Damages and costs will only increase if emissions are not reduced.
And did they also estimate the positive benefits of a warmer climate? A longer growing season and fewer deaths due to extreme cold weather are bound to offset some of the downsides of global warming.
The report notes that, between 1971 and 2000, Ontario and Manitoba saw approximately 50 days each year in which temperatures were high enough to cause heat-related deaths. By the 2050s, the Institute estimates, that annual total will be 1.5 times higher. That additional heat will put more people in hospitals. Looking specifically at coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertensive disease and diabetes, the report estimates a 21 per cent increase in the rate of heat-related hospitalizations under a low-emissions scenario.
According to the CBC, “Cold temperatures kill about 20 times as many people worldwide as hot temperatures do“. The Canadian findings showed nearly 4.5 per cent of deaths in this country over the study period were due to cold compared with 0.5 per cent for heat. What is the estimated decrease in hospitalizations due to cold?
And more people will die: the report estimates that, by mid-century, heat will account for an additional 200 to 425 deaths in Canada per year.
And how many fewer will die from cold?
The Institute did find that two measures to retrofit buildings would reduce the death toll. “If shading technologies were installed on 25 per cent of homes in Canada by the 2050s, there would be an average of 21 fewer deaths per year,” the report says. “If 50 per cent of all residential, commercial, and institutional buildings had green roofs installed by the 2050s, an average of 46 deaths would be avoided annually.”
How effective are shades and green roofs compared to retrofitted air conditioning?
But while green roofs and shading might reduce the impact of generally higher temperatures, such things won’t necessarily be enough to protect people from extreme events.
And yet a $300 window mounted air conditioner can give you a cool place in your house where you can retreat from the heat.
“When it comes to these extreme heat emergencies, the response systems really need to be in place to be able to identify the people who are going to be most affected by this and to get them the care that they need, whether it’s cooling centres, whether it’s medical attention, whether it’s a place to get off the streets,” Ness said.
Providing cooling centers and publicizing their locations for those who don’t have an alternative makes sense. Parent’s should be responsible for their children. Seniors should make provision for the heat, or have care givers who will do so.
“And in the longer term, it’s going to be important to address the underlying root causes of what makes some people more vulnerable than others. Because it’s not really the average person who’s likely to die from a heat wave event. It’s somebody who is living on the street, somebody who has pre-existing health conditions because they aren’t able to access the health care that they need, or seniors who don’t have the supports they need to to help them out in these situations.”
The government has failed to deal with homelessness for decades. In Canada, we have very good access to health care for the poor. Our senior care homes do a good job caring for the elderly for the most part.
The province’s coroner has said that many of the 300 people who died suddenly in the recent heat wave in B.C. were seniors living in homes with poor ventilation.
Private care allows one to choose the level of care that one’s elderly parents receive. Public care homes are constrained by the resources they are given. These are taxes taken from those of us who pay them, and are naturally limited–governments don’t create value, they only consume it. It’s up to those running public care to do the most for as many people as they can. This may mean a trade off where, rather than upgrading the facility’s cooling, the money is used for an on call nurse.
That’s a disturbing echo of what happened in this country during the current pandemic. When COVID-19 arrived, it was seniors living in inadequate long-term care facilities who suffered most.
Seniors are the most vulnerable.
Throughout the pandemic, it was often low-income and racialized Canadians who saw higher rates of infection and were made to accept the greatest amount of risk as “essential workers.” The Climate Choices report makes clear that climate change has the potential to exacerbate existing inequities.
How are Canadian’s “racialized”. How are they forced to accept the greatest amount of risk? Who is making them do anything?
Those vulnerabilities need to be accounted for in responding to climate change — but reducing or eliminating those disparities in general would also create a society that is better prepared to withstand the stress a changing climate will inflict.
What are you proposing as the mechanism for eliminating disparities? Communism? That has worked out incredibly poorly in the past. If you want to try it, why not move to China?
“Addressing vulnerability and giving people the resources and the best chance possible to achieve good health before these things happen is incredibly important,” Ness said.
We do this. Canada has universal medicare.
And while the focus now may be on heat, Ness notes that worsening air quality could pose problems that “dwarf” the impact of higher temperatures.
Hopefully the awareness of how productive remote work can be will translate into fewer cars on the road. If the government wants to help, it should build more mass transit. There may be less that we can do about smoke from forest fires, but if foresters have ideas, hopefully they will work with the government to implement them.
The federal Liberal government has committed to developing a National Adaptation Strategy — though a recent report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development noted that Canada is behind some European countries in such planning.
Planning makes sense, but I don’t trust the federal government to do it well.
The federal government also has committed billions of dollars in funding to disaster mitigation, improving infrastructure and public reporting (including the recently released “National Issues Report” on climate change’s impacts on Canada). But the Institute for Climate Choices found that only three per cent of climate adaptation funding announced in recent budgets was specifically targeted to public health.
This is why I don’t trust them. You don’t commit billions of dollars before you have a plan.
Though adaptation might be coming to the fore now — a new coalition of insurance companies and environmental organizations has come together to push for federal action — it has generally run second in the public discussion around climate change, perhaps with some justification. Mitigating future climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions is far preferable to merely learning to live with its effects.
Is it? What are the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions? If mitigation is so preferable, why aren’t we replacing all of our coal and gas fired electrical generation with emission free nuclear power today?
But the world is long past the point when some amount of dangerous climate change could be avoided. And we no longer need to look to the future to imagine what that change could look and feel like. The climate crisis is here.
Except that for Canada, while adaptation will be essential and no doubt difficult, we are likely to overall be better off in a hotter world. See my post Global Warming: Crisis? What Crisis? for details, and the Moody Analytics report it’s based on for even more. This article is a great example of how the government and journalists are working together to drive the ‘equity’ agenda by presenting the subset of the facts that support it.