Climate change impacts in the public imagination tend to be “spectaculars” such as sea-level rise, wildfires, and extreme weather events. But there is much less awareness of how bad overheating can be for your health, especially in a northern climate like Canada’s. Yet in 2018, a heat wave caused 86 heat-related excess deaths in Quebec, while approximately 100 excess deaths were recorded during an unusually hot week in Vancouver in 2009.1 More recently, several provinces, including British Columbia (BC), Ontario, and Quebec, experienced excessive heat and record breaking temperatures over a five day period in late June 2021. British Columbia’s chief coroner has attributed 570 of the 815 sudden deaths in BC during that time period to the heat wave.2
Air conditioning and other forms of cooling are commonplace in many parts of Ontario and Quebec. However, over much of southern BC and Atlantic Canada, mechanical cooling hasn’t been necessary historically. It surprises many to learn that such cooling is already necessary in these regions, given the warming that has occurred in recent decades. This demonstrates how climate change can not only intensify existing issues, but can also create entirely new types of challenges.
Aside from record temperatures and heat waves, the climate change-driven increase in the number of days per year that are sufficiently hot to require some form of cooling is already having an impact on public health. A recent study by Toronto Public Health found that mortality risks begin to increase when temperatures climb above 26ºC.3 In southern BC, these temperatures would have been rare 50 years ago, but now occur every year, particularly in the large urban centres. ClimateData.ca can assist in the identification of such key temperature thresholds and where they are most likely to occur.
“In Canada, this, you know, northern country, we have a tendency to play down the importance of taking action when the weather is hot. For most people, it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, it’s hot’, and that’s it,” says Magda Szpala, Director of Sustainability and Resiliency at BC Housing, the public agency responsible for building and managing social housing in the western province.