Climate change is not simply an environmental problem – it poses a serious public health challenge ~ MOHLTC
The scientific community agrees that our climate is changing. In the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85oC and Canada’s average temperature has increased 1.6°C, or twice the global average. Over the last 50 years, human activities have resulted in large quantities of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate (WHO, 2017). Health Canada confirms that climate change would present new health concerns for most Canadians.
Climate vs Weather - What does it mean?
Climate is different than weather. Weather is variable and changes daily, even hourly or by the minute. Weather is the current condition. Climate is an average of weather over a long time period, such as 30 years or more. A difference of 1.6oC may not seem like much if you think of it in terms of weather, but in terms of climate it means something else entirely. During the last ice age the climate was only 4 to 7oC cooler than it is now. Another important factor is that the rate – how fast – the climate is changing has increased significantly since the 1900s.
See “Climate” vs “Weather” from the Prairie Climate Centre and check out the Climate Change in Canada map.
How will Climate Change Impact our Health in Grey and Bruce Counties?
What can be done?
The good news is that simply by taking steps to make our natural and built environment healthier we are already on the way to mitigating and preparing for climate change! Reducing our energy consumption, using active transportation and clean energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and decreases air pollution. Eating local foods, more plant based proteins, and planting gardens also reduces greenhouse gases and helps you maintain a healthy diet. Reducing waste reduces impacts to the environment and the energy used to process, transport and landfill waste. Promoting policy changes to consider health and environment can support an increase in active living, reduce storm water runoff, reduce flooding, and reduce urban heat island effects along with many other positive impacts. All of these examples may be fairly small scale on their own, but taken together can have an impact and even help you behealthier, an added bonus.
Public Health’s Response to Climate Change
The GBHU has already started to address, manage and respond to the effects of a changing climate through various strategies.
Adapting our current programs and services such as community planning, food quality and quantity, air and water quality, infectious disease and occupational hazards will help prepare for and reduce the risks and health impacts. The GBHU has begun to identify multiple areas to adapt existing programs and services. For example:
- Education and Capacity Building: raise community and public awareness
- Surveillance and Monitoring: model the burden of disease caused by climate change and identify community vulnerabilities
- Promote programs with health and environmental co-benefits: adopt programs that benefit both the environment and the conditions that affect health
- Advocacy: advocate for policies, plans, programs and resources that support climate change mitigation and adaptation
- “Health in all Policies” approach promoted for municipal election candidates
- Review internal policies, procedures, programs for health in all polices
- Engagement of community partners: support multijurisdictional, multidisciplinary collaborative approaches
- Addressing emergency preparedness through an annual Hazardous Incident Risk Assessment (HIRA) review
- Meeting with municipal partners
- Developing a climate change action group with governmental, conservation and community associations
- Communication and Outreach: encourage residents of Grey and Bruce Counties to act to minimize individual impacts on the environment
There are many actions individuals can take to help reduce the extent of climate change and prepare for the impacts. Many are simple. For example:
- Reduce, reuse, recycle
- Eat local foods when possible, eat more plant based proteins
- Use active transportation, public transport or car pool when possible, consider an electric or hybrid vehicle for your next vehicle
- Advocate for action: contact local, provincial, and federal politician, businesses you deal with and push for policies and action toward healthier environments and climate change action
- Get to know your neighbours - you may be able to help each other in an emergency
- Protect water sources – open bodies of water and ground water – and reduce water use
- Plant ground cover rather than grass – you could spend the time you would have been mowing doing something active and fun!
Click here to find out how you can help fight climate change.
Grey Bruce State of the Environment Report - An Ecohealth perspective was applied to a State of the Environment report for Grey Bruce Health Unit and summarized environmental and health data relevant for public health practice. We aimed for comprehensiveness in our data compilation, including: standard media categories (e.g., air, water, land); and ecological indicators (e.g., vectors, forests, wetlands)
Climate Change in GBHU - Report (2017)
Food Is My Medicine - Climate Change FN - A look at how climate change may affect traditional food use and ultimately impact the health of First Nations and Metis people in Grey and Bruce Counties.
2015 Grey Bruce Air Quality Study - A study confirms air quality at the Tiverton air monitoring station reflects the larger picture of air quality across Grey Bruce. In a four-month period in the summer of 2015, a mobile air quality monitoring unit, call an Airpointer, was set up in three locations in Grey Bruce (Owen Sound, Hanover and Northern Bruce Peninsula). Measurements were taken of ambient concentrations of three common pollutants; ozone, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. The data collected at the three sites matched the data collected at the same time at the Tiverton station. The findings confirm the Tiverton Air Quality Health Index can be considered representative of measurements of common pollutants across Grey Bruce.
Augmented Air Sampling - Dundalk, Ontario Summer 2016
- During the summer of 2016, ambient air sampling for formaldehyde was conducted in the town of Dundalk as a joint project of the Grey Bruce Health Unit (GBHU) and the local Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) office, with technical support from Public Health Ontario (PHO).
Adapting to Climate Change?
Adaptation involves making adjustments in our decisions, activities, and thinking because of observed or expected changes in climate. Adaptation will help reduce harm or take advantage of new opportunities
Warming temperatures in the spring and fall seasons will help encourage the growth and establishment of insect species that carry West Nile Virus (WNV) and Lyme disease.
Humans can get West Nile Virus if they are bitten by an infected Culex species mosquito. Infected people may not experience any symptoms, have common flu-like symptoms or develop a more serious infection causing muscle weaknesses and paralysis.
Visit the Government of Canada website to discover how West Nile virus can be prevented.
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease that humans can get if they are bitten by an infected blacklegged deer tick. Left untreated, severe symptoms may develop which can last from months to years and can include muscle weakness, joint pain, and neurological disorders. Climate change has helped ticks become established in areas where they have not been previously found putting more people at risk of becoming infected.
Visit the Government of Canada site to learn how you can prevent Lyme disease and how to reduce tick habitats near your home.
More frequent and intense rainfall events can contaminate our drinking water from agricultural and residential runoff. There is a direct link between heavy rainfall events and an increase in water contamination and outbreaks of gastrointestinal water-borne illnesses. Drinking, brushing your teeth, washing vegetables, and using contaminated water can make you sick with stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting or cause illnesses which could fatal. Heavy rainfall in May 2000, was a key factor in the Walkerton tragedy where 7 people died and thousands became ill from drinking contaminated well water.
View The Private Well Water Manual to learn how to keep your well water safe and visit the safe water page to learn how to test for bacteria in your water.
Extreme weather is expected to become more common with climate change. Severe storms such as those that cause blizzards, freezing rain, strong winds and tornadoes can bring harm or injury to people. Storms can also damage critical services and infrastructure like our roads, buildings and utilities and excessive rain can cause flooding. Extreme weather may also make it more difficult for emergency services to respond to an accident or emergency.
Visit Get Prepared to learn how to prepare for severe storms.
Canadian Centre for Climate Services
Government of Canada - Adapting to Climate Change
Bruce Grey Climate Change Task Force’s newsletter Climate Challenges