Climate change poses threat to New Brunswick public health, report finds

A new report says climate change is a threat to public health in New Brunswick and the government needs to think about building up social infrastructure, such as community centres, not just roads.

Louise Comeau, who co-wrote the report for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says conversations about climate change and extreme weather tend to focus on politics, economics or technologies.

But climate events, such as the spring flooding and associated devastating property damage, affect both physical and mental health.

"People are anxious, there's post-traumatic stress that occurs … people have financial concerns and so on, that can extend years after an event," said Comeau, a research associate with the University of New Brunswick.

 

She looked at climate predictions, such as temperatures and precipitation, for 16 communities in the province over the next 30 years, as well as community health profiles "to start to tell a story about the vulnerabilities that currently exist but that can be intensified through extreme events."

Her report, titled Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers, found people in northern New Brunswick will be most at risk of suffering long-term psychological impacts from extreme weather events.

That part of the province is expected to warm at twice the rate of the south and have double the rate of precipitation in winter, according to the Canadian Climate Atlas data.

Shane Fowler/CBC

It also has older populations with lower incomes and more chronic illness, according to the New Brunswick Health Council profiles.

"You start to add a situation where you've got a flood, a power outage, ticks potentially coming, heat waves that we have to manage, and we're dealing with populations that may be less healthy, less mobile, less able to cope, and maybe not well connected socially so that we know where they are, we know how to help them, both before an event, during an event and after an event."

Comeau contends it's time to bring health and social services professionals, such as doctors, nurses, public officers of health, social workers and family resource centres, into the conversation.

The report, co-written by Daniel Nunes, was scheduled to be presented Tuesday at a workshop for about 40 professionals from across the province. Representatives of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment were expected to attend, as well as two people who do research on the mental health effects of climate change.

Copies of the report will also be sent to MLAs and the communities profiled to "help advance the conversation," said Comeau.

The report is available on the Conservation Council's website, along with additional resource material for the general public, such as information on how to deal with heat and how to flood-proof a home.