Physical and mental health impacts of climate change in New Brunswick

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.

Summary

A report from the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) explores how climate change will affect people’s physical and mental health. The study combines climate projections for the period 2021-2050 and existing community health profiles for 16 communities in New Brunswick.

Context

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.

Rising Temperatures

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).

Figure 1: Evolution of the number of days with maximum temperature greater or equal to 30°C simulated for Fredericton, New-Brunswick, 1950-2100.

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.

Figure 2 Maps of the cumulative degree-days above 0°C from 1950 to 2100 in New Brunswick (left: for RCP2.6; right: for RCP8.5)

RCP 2.6

RCP 8.5

Decade
Opacity

Increase in Precipitation

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.

Effects on Health

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.

Table 1 Examples of climate-related health impacts and causal pathways of relevance in Canada

Source: Perrota, K. (2019). Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Climate Change Toolkit for Health Professionals: Module 3 – Climate Change Health Impacts across Canada, p. 2. Retrieved from: https://cape.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Module-3-ready-to-upload-SOLO-April-5-2019.pdf

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:

    • Trauma and shock
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    • Stress
    • Anger
    • Tensions in social relations
    • Aggression and violence
    • Depression
    • Anxiety and eco-anxiety
    • Suicide ideation
    • Substance misuse
    • Aggression and violence
    • Loss of a sense of place
    • Loss of autonomy and control
    • Feelings of helplessness, fear, fatalism and worry

Adaptation strategies

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.

Key takeaways

• Future climate scenarios show significant increases in temperature and precipitation for the  16 communities studied in New Brunswick.

• Climate change has and will have an impact on the physical and mental health of residents, particularly the very young, the elderly, the isolated and the low-income.

• Various coping strategies and programs can help mitigate these effects, including heat alert systems, public education programs on various health risks, self-help and mental health support initiatives.

References

1Comeau, L., & Nunes, D. (2019). Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health. Retrieved from Fredericton, New Brunswick: https://www.conservationcouncil.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Healthy-Climate-Healthy-New-Brunswickers-1.pdfOnline: https: //www.conservationcouncil.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Healthy-Climate-Healthy-New-Brunswickers-1.pdf

2Belén Sanz-Barbero, Cristina Linares, Carmen Vives-Cases, José Luis González, Juan José López-Ossorio, Julio Díaz, “Heat wave and the risk of intimate partner violence”, Science of The Total Environment, Elsevier, December 10 2018, online: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.06.368

3Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Climate Change Toolkit for Health Professionals: Module 3 – Climate Change Health Impacts across Canada. April 2019. Online : https://cape.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Climate-Change-Toolkit-for-Health-Professionals-Updated-April-2019-2.pdf

4Clayton, S., Manning, C., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental health and our changing climate climate: Impacts implications and guidance. American Psychological Association. (page 69). Online : https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/mental-health-climate.pdf

5Statistics Canada (2015). Households and the Environment Survey, 2013. Online : https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/daily-quotidien/150310/dq150310a-eng.pdf?st=CwI7y7iC

6Clayton, S., Manning, C., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental health and our changing climate climate: Impacts implications and guidance. American Psychological Association. (page 7). Online : https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/mental-health-climate.pdf