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A hotter future is already here — and Canada is not ready –



Two weeks ago, the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices released a report on the public health impacts of climate change and the need for action to adapt to a new reality of extreme threats.

“Climate change,” Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, wrote in the report’s introduction, “is an escalating public health emergency, and we need to start treating it that way.”

The historic and deadly heat wave in British Columbia made those words frighteningly real — even before it triggered a forest fire that destroyed most of the village of Lytton, British Columbia.

“We are now committed to a certain degree of warming in the world because of the emissions of the past,” Ryan Ness, the adaptation research director for the institute and co-author of the report, said in an interview on Friday.

“So while, in the longer term, it’s absolutely critical to reduce greenhouse gases as much as possible, as fast as possible, to keep things from getting even worse, 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.”

That means countering the increased risk of floods and forest fires. It also means accounting for how climate change will threaten Canadians’ health.

A hotter, more dangerous world

Adaptation will require much greater action from governments — and learning some of the lessons of the other public health crisis we’ve spent the past year and a half fighting.

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.

But because some costs are difficult to project, researchers didn’t model all potential impacts — on mental health, for instance, or the effects of poor air quality due to wildfires, or weather-related threats to health care facilities.

Thick smoke from wildfires fills the air as a man stands on a boat while fishing on Kamloops Lake west of Kamloops, B.C., on Tuesday August 1, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

This summer in Canada may be remembered for its record-breaking and deadly heat. But it follows a similarly fatal wave in Montreal in 2018. And the future promises only more heat.

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.

Nancy Fisher is photographed at a homeless encampment in Toronto during a previous period of soaring temperatures on Friday, July 10, 2020. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

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.

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.”

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.

“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.

“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.”

What the pandemic should have taught us

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.

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.

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.

Paramedics take away a person from Revera Westside Long Term Care Home during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Canada’s wildfires could cost billions, kill thousands if nothing is done: report – Global News



Western Canada must urgently address the threats posed by highly destructive wildfires or face deadly and costly consequences, says a group of forest and environmental experts from British Columbia and the United States.

The experts, including Mathieu Bourbonnais, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of B.C. Okanagan, predict devastating wildfires like those currently burning in B.C. will be “commonplace” by 2050.

The group has released a paper predicting billions of dollars spent on suppression and indirect costs from the fires _ as well as hundreds or thousands of premature deaths each year due to smoke exposure _ ifaction isn’t taken to address climate change and the “daunting” scale of fuel, such as fallen trees and dead vegetation, that’s built up.

“If you look at record-breaking seasons, we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on fire suppression,” said Bourbonnais, a former wildland firefighter from Alberta.

Click to play video: 'Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution'

Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution

Concerns about the adverse effects of B.C. wildfire smoke pollution

“You can think about, if you spread that out over a couple of seasons, how may communities we could be engaged with on protecting watersheds, protecting drinking water sources, the communities themselves, high-value infrastructure, the ecosystems,” he said in an interview. “By doing that, we’re investing in a future that hopefully we don’t need to spend those kind of dollars on fire suppression.”

The group’s paper suggests creating patches of space in the forest that contain less flammable material, a strategy that can also boost the efficacy of fire suppression efforts, said Bourbonnais.

“Rather than crews responding to a fire with nothing but fuel in front of them, there are natural fire breaks, there’s old prescribed burns that help slow the fire down.”

Read more:
B.C. wildfire update: A pause in rapid fire growth but forecast remains hot and dry

Asked about the paper, the director of fire centre operations for the BC Wildfire Service said there was recognition of the work that needed to be done with communities as well as reducing fuel in the forests following historic wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018.

“I’m part of many different planning tables and discussions within this province and within this ministry on how do we do this better,” Rob Schweitzer told a news conference on Thursday.

“Through prescribed fire, through utilization of Indigenous traditional knowledge in use of fire, as well as amending our forest harvesting practices and the woody debris left behind, are all pieces that we continue to discuss and actually start to change policy and implement new strategies to help reduce that amount of fuel.”

Click to play video: 'South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire'

South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire

South Okanagan couple loses home to Nk’Mip Creek wildfire

About 1,250 wildfires have charred 4,560 square kilometres of bush since the start of B.C.’s fire season in April, compared with the 10-year average of 658 fires and about 1,060 square kilometres burned over the same time period, Schweitzer said.

Three dozen of the 245 wildfires that were burning in B.C on Thursday were considered either extremely threatening or highly visible, including a 655-square-kilometre fire north of Kamloops Lake that prompted an evacuation order for nearly 300 properties.

There were 28 states of local emergency and more than 60 evacuation orders covering 3,443 properties on Thursday. Nearly 90 evacuation alerts covered 17,679 properties, where residents were told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, said Pader Brach, executive director of regional operations for Emergency Management BC.

The number of daily new fires has subsided this week, Schweitzer said.

Click to play video: 'Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires'

Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires

Concern over long-term impact of Ontario wildfires

But higher temperatures are expected to contribute to “severe burning conditions” in B.C.’s southern half, he added. The forecast should bring more fresh air to the Interior, he said, fuelling a “short-lived increase in fire growth” but also aiding firefighting efforts by air, which have been hampered by smoky skies.

The service also anticipates some lighting this weekend, Schweitzer said, and crews are standing ready if new fires start.

Environment Canada issued heat warnings stretching across B.C.’s southern Interior, inland sections of the north and central coasts, as well as the south coast and parts of Vancouver Island. The wildfire service warns the combination of high temperatures and low relative humidity will make fires even more intense.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Northern Canada may be a popular destination at the end of the world – CTV News



In the event of societal collapse, researchers suggest northern Canada may be “habitable” and could act as a lifeboat, but that other countries are better suited for survival.

The researchers found that Earth is in a “perilous state” due to rapid population growth and an energy consuming society that has altered the Earth’s system and biosphere. They say that societal collapse could happen in various forms, including economic collapse, worsening climate catastrophe, a pandemic worse than COVID-19, or another mass extinction event, which the researchers say is already underway.

The goal of the study, published in the journal Sustainability on July 21, was to create a shortlist of nations that could host survivors in the event of a societal collapse, where civilization could start over. The researchers evaluated the land, how much was available and its quality, how easy or difficult it is to travel to the country, available renewable resources, climate and agriculture, to determine where it would be best to survive the end of the world.

Islands with low population density, particularly those with distinct seasonal changes, fared the best with New Zealand topping the list. Iceland, U.K., Australia (specifically Tasmania) and Ireland made up the rest of the shortlist where it would be best for society to restart after a collapse.

Northern Canada, while not on the shortlist, could act as a “lifeboat” in the event of societal collapse due to climate change and extreme temperatures, but survival would rely on maintaining agriculture and renewable energy sources to keep the population alive.

The researchers showed that the shortlisted countries had strong renewable energy sources, were in temperate climates, and have plenty of agricultural land and space for growth. In the case of Iceland, where suitable land for livestock is not in abundance, this downside is offset by fisheries and the island’s wealth of renewable resources, of which geothermal resources have already been widely developed.

While this may give Canadians living in northern regions a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, there are still zombie fires to contend with as climate change warms the north and shortens winters.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world –



The latest:

Health authorities in Thailand are racing to set up a large field hospital in a cargo building at one of Bangkok’s airports as the country reports record numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.

Other field hospitals are already in use in the capital after it ran out of hospital facilities for thousands of infected residents. Workers rushed to finish the 1,800-bed hospital at Don Mueang International Airport, where beds made from cardboard box materials are laid out with mattresses and pillows.

The airport has had little use because almost all domestic flights were cancelled two weeks ago. The field hospital is expected to be ready for patients in two weeks.

The quick spread of the delta variant also led neighbouring Cambodia to seal its border with Thailand on Thursday and order a lockdown and movement restrictions in eight provinces.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 6:30 a.m. ET

What’s happening in Canada

WATCH | Get the latest on Alberta’s plan to ease restrictions: 

Alberta will be pulling back on requirements for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and quarantines, despite rising cases in the province. 2:05

What’s happening around the world

Spain’s head coach David Martin Lozano, left, is interviewed under COVID-19 precautions after a win over Serbia in a preliminary round men’s water polo match at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on Sunday. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

As of early Thursday morning, more than 196 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 4.1 million deaths had been reported.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo reported 3,865 new cases on Thursday, up from 3,177 on Wednesday and double the number it had a week ago. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katunobu Kato told reporters the new cases are soaring not only in the Tokyo area but also across the country. He said Japan has never experienced an expansion of infections of this magnitude.

The World Health Organization’s Africa director says the continent of 1.3 billion people is entering an “encouraging phase after a bleak June” as supplies of COVID-19 vaccines increase. But Matshidiso Moeti told reporters on Thursday that just 10 per cent of the doses needed to vaccinate 30 per cent of Africa’s population by the end of 2021 have arrived. Some 82 million doses have arrived in Africa so far, while 820 million are needed.

A health worker administers a dose of the Janssen Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Dakar on Wednesday. Senegal is seeing an uptick in cases, sparking worry among health-care workers. (Leo Correa/The Associated Press)

Less than two per cent of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated, and the more infectious delta variant is driving a deadly resurgence of cases.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel on vaccine deliveries to Africa but it must not be snuffed out again,” Moeti said. 

In the Americas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday that 66.6 per cent of U.S. counties had transmission rates of COVID-19 high enough to warrant indoor masking and should immediately resume the policy.

COVID-19 continues to inflict a devastating toll on the Americas, with Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador and Paraguay among the countries with the world’s highest weekly death rates, the Pan American Health Organization said.

In the Middle East, Iran on Wednesday reported 33,817 new cases of COVID-19 and 303 additional deaths. The country, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, is experiencing yet another surge in cases.

In Europe, Spain’s prime minister said existing measures to protect the most vulnerable from the pandemic’s economic fallout will be prolonged until the end of October.

Spain, one of the countries that was hardest hit at the beginning of the health emergency, has extended subsidies for the unemployed and furloughs for companies that have gone out of business to try to cushion an economic drop of 11 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2020.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 11:15 a.m. ET

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