Emergency Room

Yesterday was World Health Day. You might not know it, but climate change is poised to have major impacts on the health of people around the world. And with Canada warming at twice the rate of other countries, we’re no exception.

Canada’s doctors have called climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century” and said that “tackling it could be our greatest health opportunity.” Even though our universal health-care system gives us an advantage in coping with climate-driven health impacts, many Canadians are still vulnerable.

So, whether you live in a big city or a small town, here a 4 ways climate change could impact your health … and how you can deal with it.

1. It could get harder to breathe, so let’s keep big polluters in check.


Worsening air pollution from ozone, other pollutants, and particulate linked to heat waves and forest wildfires are expected to affect our respiratory systems. Air pollution has been linked to about 9,500 deaths per year in Canada (see bottom of page for data sources). In Toronto alone, air pollution gives rise to 1,300 premature deaths and 3,500 hospitalizations each year. Children, elderly folks and people with respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are among the vulnerable.

How you can deal: Join our climate justice and #6ixReasonsToSue campaigns by signing the petition here. Just 25 fossil fuel companies are responsible for more than half of all human-caused emissions since 1988. Make sure that big polluters like fossil fuel companies are held accountable for their impact on climate change (and for misleading the public about what they knew about how their products could affect us). 


2. We might start to feel blue, but we can get through it. 

Climate despair is serious stuff. Climate-fuelled extreme weather events have been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, drug and alcohol usage, and even suicidal actions. Grief can arise from the destruction of lives and homes from extreme weather events. Mental health issues can also be triggered by such things as being enveloped in asthma-triggering wildfire smoke or being frequently isolated indoors due to heat and air pollution. Studies show that in Canada’s north, where Indigenous communities rely on sea ice for hunting, transportation, and country food, disconnection from the land and worsening well-being are particularly pronounced.

What do you call this kinds of mental health conditions? Turns out there are a lot of names coming up in Canadian research, including ecological grief, eco-anxiety and “solastalgia,” a name given to the condition of feeling homesick even when at home.

How you can deal: Some doctors are prescribing action to deal with patients’ climate anxiety. Sound right to you? Take action and find community with Greenpeace Canada’s volunteer network.  After all, it’s normal to feel anxious when presented with a threat. If you’re feeling down about climate change, you can also consult a health professional (or crisis line if you need emergency help right away).


3. Ticks, ticks, ticks (seriously, ticks are getting to be everywhere).


One type of critter, in particular, is giving us one reason to be a little more vigilant when out for a hike through fields and forests — and no, we don’t mean bears. Warmer weather and longer summers are increasing the geographic range of ticks, which like to hang out in grassy areas. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, a bacteria-borne illness that can cause serious health issues if left untreated. Researchers at the University of Guelph predict that climate change could mean that ticks’ geographic range increases by 50% in the next 50 years.

 How you can deal: The Government of Canada provides advice on how to avoid ticks and Lyme disease here. Check in with your doctor or local health unit for regional information. Spend a lot of time in the woods and want to keep them healthy? Get involved in our forests campaign here.


4. Heat stroke could become a serious threat, so here’s one way to keep cool.


More than 90 people lost their lives during the 2018 heat wave in Quebec. It was an unforgettable and tragic moment that snapped our potential future into crystal clear focus. Canada is expected to have more hot days as the Earth’s average temperature rises. In Toronto alone, the number of hot days (above 30 degrees Celsius) could triple in the next 30 years (from 16 to 51). Heat waves can trigger heat rash, heat edema, heat stroke and impact people’s hearts and kidneys. Most vulnerable are the elderly, homeless people and urban dwellers (the lack of vegetation and concrete jungles supercharge warm temperatures).

How you can deal: There are many ways to help bring climate change under control. One thing you can do is protect our oceans, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Earth’s oceans are key carbon sinks that help regulate our planet’s climate. Join the campaign to protect the Arctic or to protect the Antarctic and help us all keep cool!

 Want to read more about these statistics and health information we cited above?

Check out the policy brief from the Lancet Countdown 2018 Report: Briefing for Canadian Policymakers and this 2016 report from City of Toronto’s Medical Health Officer.