In New Brunswick, as elsewhere, climate change is now a public health problem. The occurrence of extreme weather events (such as floods causing coastal erosion and damage to infrastructure, etc.) worsen the physical and mental health conditions of the population.
Researched and written: Annick Poitras, writer/editor | Collaborators: Christiane Allen, Elaine Barrow, Diane Chaumont, Victor Gallant, Trevor Murdock, Abderrahmane Yagouti.
In New Brunswick, as elsewhere, climate change is a public health problem. Changes in temperature and precipitation cause daily inconvenience (with the potential to increase the risk of contracting Lyme disease, worsen allergies due to pollen, eco-anxiety, etc.), and the occurrence of extreme weather events (such as floods causing coastal erosion and damage to infrastructure, etc.) worsen the physical and mental health conditions of the population.
Temperature influences natural cycles, our lifestyles and our health. Heat waves can cause the death of elderly and sick people, as well as an increase in domestic violence and criminal activity.
In New Brunswick, average temperatures in the 16 communities surveyed will increase in the future, particularly during the winter and spring months. These increases will add to existing warming.
By 2050, extremely hot days will become more frequent in the province. For example, the number of days when temperatures reach at least 30 degrees Celsius in Fredericton will double or triple over the 2050 horizon depending on the RCP (Representative Concentration Pathway) selected (see Figure 1).
New Brunswickers can also expect to experience significantly fewer frost-free days. These mild temperatures will increase the risk of exposure to ticks that carry Lyme disease. In 2017, 29 confirmed cases of Lyme disease were reported to New Brunswick Public Health, more than triple the eight cases reported in 2016.
A minimum of 2800 degree-days above 0°C has been identified as necessary for tick survival. Thus the possible extent of Lyme disease occurrence can be mapped using this information. Figure 2 shows the possible impact of the RCP on the extent of the climate favorable for tick survival. RCP8.5 suggests that all regions will have reached the minimum threshold of 2800 degree-days above 0°C during the decade 2060 while the highest altitudes would be protected until the decade 2090 if the measures to reach the RCP2.6 are adopted.
Climate projections predict an increase in average annual precipitation in the future. More rain in winter in northern New Brunswick, combined with warmer temperatures in spring, could lead to a greater risk of flooding during the spring flood, similar to that which prevailed in this province in 2018 and 2019.
The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) reported some important health effects of climate change across Canada (Table 1). Rising temperature, changes in precipitation, changes in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have an effect on air quality, forest fires, heat waves, habitat of disease vectors, crops, which in turn, increase the exposure of the population at risk.
New Brunswickers are at risk of the adverse effects of climate change on mental health. While damage to components of social infrastructure has many serious consequences, climate-related hazards may have significant psychological and psychosocial consequences, such as:
In New Brunswick, about 40% of households use a stand-alone or central air conditioner, compared to almost 80% in Ontario and Manitoba. Elderly or ill people, especially if they have low incomes, may have less tolerance for extreme heat. Hence the importance of the Heat Alert and Response System (HARS) to manage health risks. This tool has three alert levels based on three factors that characterize an extreme heat event: intensity, duration, and exposure to heat during the night.
There are provincial public education programs in the province regarding the growing presence of blacklegged ticks carrying Lyme disease (such as Be Tick Smart and Lyme NB), as well as the risks of flooding.
Post-tropical storm Arthur in July 2014 and the ice storm of January 2017 in the Acadian Peninsula made it possible to learn lessons to help the most vulnerable. In Lamèque, door-to-door visits during the ice storm revealed worrying levels of isolation for people on low incomes. Church leaders at Notre-Dame-des-Flots responded by building a community kitchen, shower and laundry room, and offering free meals and counseling. These types of services are useful for building relationships and building community resilience.
Local food self-sufficiency has potential benefits for food security, particularly if climate change disrupts global food production and imports of food to places like New Brunswick become more expensive.
In terms of mental health, researchers from the American Psychological Association recommend that the authorities help people to believe in their own resilience, to encourage optimism, to cultivate adaptive capacities, to maintain practices that help make sense of and promote connectivity with family, place, culture and community.