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Climate Change and Health

Our health is connected to the health of the planet. Learn how climate change affects our health and how we can address these health risks.
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About climate change and health

Climate change is affecting our health. The most direct health threats of climate change happen through hazards caused by extreme weather events such as heat and flooding. 

Climate change can also affect our health in other ways, such as changes in the distribution of plants and animals, the availability of food and water, the spread of diseases, and impacts on our mental well-being. Climate change also affects our health through its impacts on local infrastructure or “built environments”.  For example, extreme weather events can lead to damaged infrastructure, power outages, decreased access to essential goods and services, and increased risk of injuries.  

Certain groups are at higher risk of experiencing health effects from climate change. These include:
  • People who are less able to prevent and recover from climate impacts, such as those who experience poverty, colonization, racism, inadequate housing, and lack of access to health care.
  • People who are more likely to be exposed to the impacts because of where and how they live and work.
  • People with disabilities, chronic diseases, and mental illnesses.
  • Babies in the womb, infants, young children, and older adults.

Communities across British Columbia (B.C.) are taking action to adapt to climate change and increase their resiliency to future climate events. 

See some examples from the Building Hope through Action report by Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and BCCDC, which summarizes the experiences of ten B.C. communities in responding to their identified climate change priorities.

The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada issued a report on public health action on climate change. Review the report:

Mobilizing Public Health Action on Climate Change in Canada

The costs of climate change, including its impacts on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, are strongly felt by Indigenous Peoples due to their dependence upon, and close relationship, with the environment and its resources. 

Climate change actions need to consider the varied roles Indigenous Peoples and knowledge plays in stewarding the environment, combating climate change and building climate resiliency. Climate change adds to the burdens already faced by Indigenous Peoples through the colonial narrative of political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment among other things.

We need to abide by Indigenous Title and Rights and respect their territories’ creating and actioning opportunities to partner with and learn from Indigenous Peoples, the original guardians and stewards of the land, in order to build resilience for all.   


Health impacts of climate change

Climate change is leading to more frequent and intense extreme heat events in B.C. Extreme heat events occur when daytime and nighttime temperatures are well above seasonal norms for a series of days. 

Extreme heat events can seriously threaten human health, particularly for vulnerable populations who do not have access to safe indoor environments. 

Heat events can:
  • Increase the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke, dehydration and heat exhaustion. 
  • Worsen existing health conditions such as heart and lung diseases.
  • Cause death in extreme cases, often due to unsafe indoor temperatures.
  • Impact animals, crops and traditional food systems.
Climate change leads to changes in rainfall and snowmelt patterns, and sea level rise, increasing the risk of flooding in B.C. communities.

Flooding can produce immediate dangers to people, resulting in injuries and deaths. It can also lead to indirect hazards such as:
  • Mental health effects, especially for those who need to leave their homes and communities. 
  • Increased risk of infectious diseases spread by insects, contaminated water, or food.
  • Exposure to poor indoor air quality due to mould growth.
  • Impacts on agriculture, transportation, and traditional food systems that affect food security.
Climate change means wildfires are happening more often and are more extreme and wildfire seasons are lasting longer in B.C. Wildfire is a direct threat to people, properties and communities, and the smoke emitted creates air pollution that affects the health of many areas, even those far from the fire. 

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of air pollutants. Exposure to these air pollutants can:
  • Irritate the lungs and eyes.
  • Worsen existing lung and heart conditions.
Climate change can increase our risk of certain infectious diseases that are spread by insects or animals. 
  • Changing temperature, precipitation patterns and other environmental factors are shifting where certain insects and animals live in B.C. and increasing their numbers. This makes it more likely that humans will be exposed to the diseases these insects and animals carry. 
  • Climate change also influences human and animal behaviour, which may increase the risk of exposure to existing and emerging infectious diseases. 

Climate change is linked to changing weather patterns, causing more frequent extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. These events disrupt agricultural activities, seafood, traditional Indigenous and non-Indigenous food hunting and gathering practices, supply chains, and threaten the amount and variety of food we can access. Remote communities with less access to food options are disproportionally affected. 

Some environmental changes also affect food safety. For example, warmer temperatures and the changing chemistry of the ocean can lead to a higher risk of exposure to marine toxins and pathogens in seafood. Power outages from extreme weather can cause food spoilage.

Climate change and its associated hazards have a wide-range of impacts on mental health and well-being.

Experiencing direct hazards such as extreme weather events and their secondary impacts such as food and water insecurity, economic disruptions and destruction of culturally and historically significant landmarks and cultural sites can lead to increased incidence of mental health disorders and poorer overall well-being.

Understanding climate change and the impact now and for future generations can cause strong feelings of fear, stress, hopelessness, and anxiety. These emotional reactions are commonly referred to as climate anxiety, eco-anxiety, solastalgia, or eco-paralysis.

Exposure to nature can improve mental health, increase social well-being and physical activity. Impacts from climate change such as pollution and invasive species can reduce the quality of surrounding natural spaces and makes it harder for communities to enjoy the full mental health benefits of nature.  


SOURCE: Climate Change and Health ( )
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