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Climate Change and Health

Last updated/revised:  March 22, 2023

On this page…

What is Climate Change?
How does Climate Change affect Health?
Why is PPH looking at Climate Change?
More information on Climate-Related Hazards
Climate Change Mitigation vs. Adaptation

What is Climate Change?

Climate is the average weather patterns of a region over a long period of time (i.e. 30+ years). Climate change refers to the long-term shift in the usual weather patterns of a region. This could be changes in how much precipitation a region gets each year or season, differences in the usual temperature in a season, or changes in how often a region has severe storms.

Over the last 100-150 years, Earth’s climate has been changing because of human- and naturally-produced warming. The last 8 years (2015-2022) were the warmest years on record since records began. The average global temperature in 2022 was about 1.15°C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels. The recent changes in Earth’s temperatures is often described as global warming.

The vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is real, and that it is largely caused by human activity. A major human-caused contributor to global warming is the burning of fossil fuels (i.e. coal, oil and gas), which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” trap heat in our atmosphere. Climate change includes global warming, but also changes to precipitation, frequency of storms, seasonal variability, and more.

Changes to climate are experienced differently across the globe. Canada is experiencing a faster warming rate than the global average. Locally, it is expected that our region will experience warming of all seasons, and increased precipitation in winter and spring seasons. These changes will correspond with more heat waves, greater frequency and intensity of storms, and resulting issues such as floods and droughts.

How does Climate Change affect Health?

Changes to temperature and precipitation, as well as levels of greenhouse gases in the air, are associated with threats (hazards) to health. Climate-related health hazards are often categorized as follows:

  • Extreme temperatures, particularly heat / heatwaves
  • Extreme weather events (e.g. intense rain or wind storms)
  • Food and water contamination
  • Changes to food and water security
  • Increased infectious diseases such as those carried by ticks and mosquitoes
  • Reduced air quality
  • Changes to UV (ultraviolet) radiation exposure

These hazards can lead to injuries, illnesses and long-term health conditions. Some examples of how climate change may impact health are:

  • Dehydration and heat stroke
  • Injuries from extreme weather events
  • Food- and waterborne illnesses
  • Affordability and availability of food and water
  • Illness from Lyme disease and West Nile virus, as well as other vector borne diseases
  • Exacerbation of asthma and allergies
  • Increased risk of skin cancer
  • Mental health impacts from any of the challenges above, as well as feelings of anxiety about climate change (climate- or eco-anxiety)

Seemingly small increases in average temperatures are negatively impacting population health and we know that continued global warming will escalate these impacts.

Climate change can impact the health of all people, but some people are more at-risk or “vulnerable”. Vulnerability can be influenced by many factors such as age, pre-existing health conditions, being pregnant, housing quality, and having a job or recreational hobby where one is more exposed to the health hazards. People can also be vulnerable if they are not able to adapt to the hazards.

Why is PPH looking at Climate Change?

Climate change is a serious public health issue.  It affects everyone’s health, wellbeing and the environment that we live in. Peterborough Public Health (PPH) is required by Ontario’s Ministry of Health to consider the health impacts of climate change as part of the Ontario Public Health Standards.

In our recent Strategic Plan, PPH identified a goal that “People most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change are supported in adapting to and reducing negative health impacts.”

Supporting our community to adapt to climate change will require collaborative multi-sector efforts. As an initial step, PPH is preparing a Climate Change and Health Vulnerability Assessment for the communities we serve, which include Curve Lake First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation, and Peterborough County and City. This assessment will be a key source of information, identifying community vulnerabilities and serving as baseline health data. This will inform further collaborative efforts and will be useful for measuring progress.

More information on Climate-Related Hazards

PPH delivers programs that address many of the climate change-related health hazards. For more information, including how to protect yourself, visit these webpages:

Climate Change Mitigation vs. Adaptation

Tackling climate change requires two approaches:

Mitigation refers to approaches aiming to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, often by way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, choosing to drive an electric vehicle or riding a bicycle, instead of driving a gas-powered vehicle is a climate change mitigation strategy.

Adaptation refers to approaches aiming to reduce the negative impacts of climate change. While individuals can enact adaptive measures, it is also crucial for community leaders and policy-makers to take action collaboratively to understand, assess, prepare for and help prevent the health impacts of climate change, particularly on the most vulnerable in society. An example of adaptation is creating policies where public cooling centres/spaces are accessible to community members on really hot and humid days.

Some climate actions can be considered both mitigation and adaptation.  E.g., planting trees: Trees convert carbon dioxide from the air into oxygen (mitigation), and enhance the urban tree canopy, providing shade and relief from extreme heat (adaptation)

Peterborough Public Health will be focused on supporting community adaptation planning over the next several years, specifically related to reducing the negative health impacts of climate change.

Source: Climate Atlas of Canada

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