Heat and health have an incredibly strong link. And as Canadians in a warming world we must take this seriously.
New information from the Government of Canada reveals that we could be on average 6°C warmer by the end of this century.
“When you think about that being the average temperature, that also means the extremes of temperature will be worse. Which means that the heat waves will be even hotter than what we experience now,” explains Dr. Renee Salas, Emergency Medicine Physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Regular summer daytime highs in the 40’s are possible and that could put extreme heat waves close to -- or exceeding -- 50°C.
If we live under these conditions, Canadians could face increased problems involving:
"Heat stroke is the deadliest form of heat related illness," Dr. Salas explains. "Essentially your body overheats to the point that your organs start shutting down and your brain can’t function."
According to Dr. Salas, heat stroke will become more common in a warming world.
“And the people most vulnerable will be the elderly and poor.”
The idea of heat stroke has been studied by doctors for many years, and it’s something that people are very aware of each summer. However, as Canadian summers become warmer, new health issues are arising.
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“In the past year or two, they have linked hotter temperatures to bacteria actually becoming more resistant to antibiotics, which is something that scares all of us in medicine,” says Dr. Salas.
The list continues with, “students having a harder time thinking if they are in non-air conditioned buildings. It's also been linked to potentially, if new mothers are exposed to hotter temperatures, they found an increased rate of infants with congenital heart problems. And it's also been linked to worsening mental health problems and potentially increased suicide.”
The Government of Canada also created their own list of problems when they published the projected temperature increase.
- Extended heat also increases the demand for cooling, increasing electricity costs in summer
- Risk of food and water-borne contamination increases
- Warmer temperatures can allow the spread of forest, agricultural pests and disease-vectors (such as ticks) into new regions
- Hotter and drier conditions increase the risk of droughts and wildfires
- Heat related deaths will increase, especially for the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions
It’s a scary thought to think we could live in a world that will eventually become too hot to sustain a healthy life.
“We are not locked into this. We have the responsibility, that we are alive at this point in time. That what we do today can make a difference in 2100. We can minimize the suffering that our children will face and the catastrophe that could unfold, by acting today,” says Dr. Salas.
What can I do to help Canada’s projected heat problem?
- Consider buying an electric car
- Use active transport like biking or walking
- Educate yourself about fossil fuels and realize that these are heating the earth
- Research and adapt to renewable energy like solar or wind energy
- Make an effort to minimize energy use
“There is nothing harder for me than having a patient that I do not have a treatment for,” says Dr. Salas. “But this warming world...we have a treatment for this! I want to instill that in people. We paint these pictures of what 2100 could look like, but we don't have to go there. We can change what that looks like today.”