Health Canada issues a quiet wake-up call about climate change

Photo: istockphoto.com/John Bloor
With little fanfare, Health Canada published a report predicting an onslaught of health problems across the country due to our changing climate. Tory advice In response to the dire predictions, Health Minister Tony Clement told Canadians to "get used to it." Hot, bad weather The 500-page report warned about the ecological balance being changed, triggering outbreaks of disease previously rare or unknown in Canada. "The findings of this assessment suggest the need for immediate action to buttress efforts to protect health from current climate hazards," says report, entitled Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity. More illness We can expect increases in heat-related illnesses and deaths along with respiratory and cardiovascular disorder. Injuries, illnesses and stress-related disorders will also rise due to extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves and cold snaps become the norm. Smog and dirty water Poor air quality will lead to more heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases while exacerbating asthma and allergies. Run off from heavy rainfalls will contaminate our drinking water with water-borne pathogens like E coli and typhoid. Regional problems Over 140 experts, scientists and environmentalists from across Canada participated in the report. Each region of the country has its own chapter where specific challenges are discussed. Northern Canada appears to be particularly vulnerable, having to deal with avalanches and landslides, food shortages and less clean drinking water. Quebec was mentioned as being well equipped to handle the cold being particularly vulnerable to heat waves. Young and old Those at greater risk are people aged 65 and older, with summer mortality rates projected to be two to three times greater than for those aged 15 to 64, the report says. A four degree increase in average temperatures could result in 312 more premature deaths each summer a 4.6 per cent or $1.366 billion increase each summer in the health burden to Canadian society related to air pollution. Two-tier Tony "This report makes it clear that if you have bad health outcomes now, you're likely to be more impacted by extreme weather events than if you're at the top of the health ladder," said Clement. The report urges Ottawa to do more to help Canadians adapt to climate change citing "significant barriers to adaptation" that include a lack of knowledge of health risks and uneven access to protective measures across the country. The full report is available on the Natural Resources website. Anne Colvey writes regularly for Green Living Online. Afraid of heights and Conservatives, she is worried about having the climb Clement's health ladder.