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Climate-related health costs for Canadians to run into the billions of dollars

A report released by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices (CICC) finds that climate change represents a significant public health threat.

Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge. Photo: by Anthonymaw (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge. Photo: by Anthonymaw (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A new report released on Wednesday by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices (CICC) finds that climate change represents a significant public health threat that will disproportionately harm those most vulnerable.  

The report – The Health Costs of Climate Change: How Canada Can Adapt, Prepare, and  Save Lives, estimates that the impacts from climate change on the health of Canadians will add up to hundreds of billions of dollars.

The burden will end up falling heaviest on vulnerable communities, with increased hospitalizations, an increase in respiratory problems, and an increase in premature deaths, due to weather-related issues, based on their current numbers, reports CTV News Canada.

The report also notes that not only will healthcare costs escalate, but the impacts from climate change will reduce economic activity by tens of billions of dollars over the coming decades.

Ryan Ness, the CICC’s director of adaptation, told that without immediate action, climate change will also leave Canada with a “public health crisis,” where the inequality in the healthcare system for the vulnerable will only get worse.

“This isn’t a technical or environmental crisis. It’s a crisis of equity, and making sure that everybody has a fair chance,” Ness said via telephone on Tuesday.

Study blames global warming for 37 percent of the world's heat-related deaths
Dangerous humid heat extremes occurring decades before expected. — Photo: U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Josie Walck / Public Domain

The CICC report focuses on three threats

The report cites three specific threats to Canadians that include: warmer temperatures, degraded air quality, and an increased prevalence of Lyme disease.

CICC analyzed the impacts for the threats under both low and high global greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, although there are many other threats.

“Air quality, Lyme disease, and heat are only a few of the many possible threats that climate change poses to health. Many other impacts require attention even if it is not currently possible or appropriate to quantify them,” says the report.

The number of cases of Lyme Disease in Canada is already raising alarm bells. And warming temperatures are to blame, as ticks migrate northward with the hotter temperatures.

Health Canada reported 2,636 cases of Lyme disease in 2019, 11 times the number from 10 years earlier. The CICC report projects that number to rise to 8,500 cases per year by the middle of the century, with associated annual costs to the healthcare system of $3 million.

And Lyme Disease is just one small part of the overall picture, and it does look gloomy. There are very serious health problems that are caused or exascerbated by hotter temperatures or poor air quality.

The black-legged tick, often called the deer tick, is spreading dramatically through the U.S. and Canada, The spread has also caused an increase in the incidence of Lyme Disease. Image – Scott Bauer/PD-USGov-USDA-ARS Public Domain

Think about asthma, COPD, allergies, heat stroke, heart disease, the elderly and those with preexisting conditions, and the mental toll that global warming is responsible for, and you will be staggered by the numbers.

Ian Culbert, who wrote the report’s foreword and is the executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, says the report shows that the federal government’s push to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 will also bring health benefits for Canadians.

And Culbert understands that people would rather push their government to tackle other issues that may be more relevant than climate change, but that mindset all goes to the wayside when the issue is an individual’s health.

“It’s really part of that bigger picture of changing our societal expectations of governments, so that the necessary investments and policy changes can be made,” Culbert told via telephone on Tuesday.

“We know from research we’ve had, when people start associating the health effects of climate change to climate change, then it takes on a new meaning, and a new importance.”

The report is clear and concise, and while it gives us some mind-numbing data, it also offers four recommendations to governments, all around the themes of explicitly considering the health impacts of climate change when making decisions and funding more research into the effects of climate change on Canadians’ health.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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