Icebergs float in a bay off Ammassalik Island, Greenland on July 19, 2007. A new report from the international medical journal The Lancet says a child born today will never know a life where their health isn’t placed at risk by a warming planet. (John McConnico/AP)

Today’s babies won’t know life without climate change, new report warns

In some of the world’s hottest and poorest countries, malnutrition will increase

A baby born in Canada today will never know a time in which his or her health isn’t at risk from a warming planet, an annual look at climate change and human health reported Wednesday.

The Lancet medical journal’s 2019 countdown on health and climate change has dire warnings about the kind of world we might be leaving to future generations.

“The life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change,” the report says. “Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives.”

In some of the world’s hottest and poorest countries, malnutrition will increase, while in a country like Canada, air pollution, heat-related illnesses and exposure to toxic smoke from forest fires are bigger threats to a child’s long-term health. A warmer world means more widespread transmission of diseases, as well as the political strife that comes with mass migration as some parts of the world become uninhabitable.

ALSO READ: Cowichan Valley teen leads effort to fight climate change

Dr. Courtney Howard, a Yellowknife-based emergency doctor who helped pen the Canadian briefing document out of the main report, said pushing the world to do more to slow global warming is critical because after a certain point, we won’t be able to adapt to the impacts. But she said there also needs to be more work done to adapt to the impacts we are already seeing.

For example, she notes, the hospital in Fort McMurray, Alta., had to evacuate in a matter of hours when massive wildfires tore through the city in 2017. But most hospitals, including her own, have no plan to respond to similar circumstances.

“Do we know how to evacuate in a hurry?” she asked. “It’s not something we covered in my emergency-medicine training but it’s certainly something we need to cover now.”

During fires, most people are advised to stay indoors, but she said that advice was developed when a fire lasted only a few days. In 2017, some regions saw that advice daily for more than two months, which meant isolation that brought on unexpected mental-health problems. Also, she said, smoke will eventually penetrate a home exposed to it for days on end.

Adapting buildings to have better ventilation systems and preparing communities for the trauma of evacuations are also key, Howard said.

The number of Canadians exposed directly to wildfire averaged 35,300 between 2001 and 2004, but 54,100 between 2015 and 2018. That number does not include those exposed to wildfire smoke, which adds to the cardiovascular risks and lung diseases.

Between 1980 and 2017, 448,444 Canadians were forced to leave their homes because of wildfires, but more than half of those evacuations occurred after 2010.

Globally in 2018, 220 million senior citizens experienced at least one heat wave, breaking the previous record set three years earlier of 209 million. The consequences of increased exposure to extreme heat include heat stress, heat stroke, kidney disease, exacerbation of heart failure, as well as increased risks of violence.

There is also an economic cost to these events. In the United States, for example, heat waves became so pronounced in 2018 that as many as one-fifth of daylight hours in southern states became unproductive hours for outdoor workers in industries like agriculture and construction.

Hotter climates are also conducive for the transmission of disease. Nine of the 10 most suitable years for the transmission of dengue fever have occurred since 2000. The number of days suitable for the spread of a pathogen that causes diarrhea has doubled since 1980. In Canada, Lyme-infested ticks are marching their way north.

The Lancet notes that if we intervene now to keep warming down and find ways to adapt, the savings to the health system and economic productivity down the road will in many places more than pay for the costs of those interventions.

This year’s report also sees health professionals accepting their own responsibility for global warming. The Canadian brief points out that the health system is responsible for more than four per cent of Canada’s emissions.

Howard said she is a bit sheepish that she hadn’t turned her attention to her own industry much before now.

“Leading by example is one of the best ways to create change,” she said.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Louise Avery is the longest serving Curator and Director at the Kitimat Museum. Here, she’s standing in front of the new Haisla Heritage Section, which they worked hard on with Haisla members and organizations to ensure it was an accurate and respectful display of artifacts.
In Our Valley: Louise Avery

Louise Avery has been the Director and Curator at the Kitimat Museum for over 24 years

Nechako Toastmasters member Eleanor Kendall performing a speech as Mrs. Claus at a meeting when they were still meeting in person, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Wanda Shaw photo)
Turning fears into confidence: Kitimat Toastmasters go online amidst COVID-19

Nechako Toastmasters have moved virtual amidst COVID-19 restrictions

<em>Black Press file photo </em>
Clare’s Corner: Yes, love is strange — and an addiction

A little bit of love to help get you through those Monday blues

Mount Elizabeth Middle Secondary School in Kitimat scored a 1.7 out of 10 on the Fraser Institute’s annual school report cards. This is the lowest the school has ever scored, where they usually average around a 5. (Black Press Media photo)
‘Developing a sense of belonging’: Kitimat high school unconcerned by Fraser Institute’s report card ranking

The Institute’s annual school report cards gave Mount Elizabeth Middle/Secondary a 1.7 out of 10

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The ‘new normal’ for hockey parents in Chilliwack and elsewhere in B.C., watching their kids from outside of the arena due to COVID-19 protocols. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey parents petition to be let back in the arena

Refused access due to pandemic protocols, parents are now applying pressure to loosen the rules

Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of B.C. girl, 7, by accused mother was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. money laundering inquiry hears of $800,000 and more in bags, luggage, backpacks

The lottery corporation has said it consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac

Most Read