A new report from one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world says Canada's failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions not only killed the planet, it killed Canadians.
Reports about the health effects of climate change, published Wednesday in The Lancet, concluded that succeeding in overcoming climate change would be the biggest thing the government could do to improve human health this century.
Chronic exposure to air pollution from greenhouse gas emissions kills around 7,142 Canadians per year, and 2.1 million people worldwide.
Heat waves, forest fires, floods and major storms cause more deaths and long-term illnesses, but little data is available about how much.
The first recommendation in this report is only to track the number of illnesses and deaths related to heat in Canada, something that was not done at all in most provinces.
Last summer, public health officials in Quebec said 90 people were killed in a heat wave. Southern and eastern Ontario experienced the same heat but Ontario did not track heat related deaths in the same way, so no one knew how many affected people in the next province
Courtney Howard, an emergency doctor from Yellowknife who wrote the Canadian section of the report, said that currently the world is at a pace to increase temperatures that we cannot adapt, which causes more deaths and diseases.
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The surface temperature of the world average is around 1 C warmer than in the pre-industrial era, and if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the current level, the increase will be between 2.6 C and 4.8 C by the end of the century .
"We are not sure we can adapt to it in a way that we can maintain the stability of stability and the same health care system that we normally use," Howard said. "We talked about not only maintaining disease levels, we talked about our ability to provide health care."
The fine particles of pollutants in the air cause premature death from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, acute respiratory infections and chronic lung disease. More frequent heat waves contribute to a more intense heat stroke and pollen season, which can worsen allergies and asthma, as well as forest fires.
Warmer temperatures also help insects develop, which means more diseases are transmitted through bugs. The incidence of Lyme disease, carried by fleas, rose 50 percent in 2017 alone.
Howard said the new term that emerged among mental health professionals was "eco-anxiety," describing mental stress caused by climate-related changes – or even only the threats they might occur.
Public health officials must adjust their response to hazards such as forest fires, because the intensity and frequency of increased fires means that more communities have bad air for longer periods of time, he said. Most health authorities will advise people to stay indoors on smoky days, but when that period lasts for weeks, it is not a sustainable solution.
In San Francisco this month, smoke from wild fire makes air the most dangerous in the world. Doctors tell people to stay in it, and wear masks if they really have to go out of the house.
Howard said work was being done to improve smoke forecasting, so people could be told when they could go outdoors and exercise in the sun safely during extended smoke warnings.
He said the last few summers had warned Canada about what climate change would happen, by breaking the record of forest fires in British Columbia in 2017 and 2018, drought in Prairies, heat waves in central Canada, and flooding in communities almost from the coast to beach. He said some people think this is normal new – but that is not normal.
"This will be worse in 10 years," he said.
Howard said if we did not increase our efforts, the change to the world would be very large, including more war and migration.
"I am an emergency doctor and I am working on this because this is an emergency," he said.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
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