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Prince Edward Island

Our fossil fuel addiction is killing us

Persistent over-reliance on fossil fuels — globally and at home — is threatening the health of Canadians and people everywhere, researchers warn.

Across Canada, deadly heat waves and air pollution are killing lives, growing seasons for key crops are shrinking and people are losing income, according to a new report by The lancet disclosed.

Heat-related deaths from 2017 to 2021 rose 72 percent in Canada compared to a four-year period from 2000 to 2004, the new data shows. Nearly 600 people died in BC’s deadly heatwave last summer, according to the BC Coroner, and those heatwaves are expected to become more frequent in the coming decades.

The Lancet Countdown is an annual, international report that uses data to track the health impacts of climate change and to assess governments’ efforts to meet climate targets. This year’s report warns that climate change is accelerating crises: from infectious diseases to food insecurity, fuel poverty, extreme weather conditions and deaths.

“By focusing on health, it becomes clear how climate change is affecting Canadians,” said Dr. Alika Lafontaine, President of the Canadian Medical Association Canada’s National Observer.

“Just like healthcare, it’s sometimes hard to understand unless you’re receiving care or working within the system… Climate change is like that, where it’s sometimes hard to plug in unless you’re feeling the acute effects of climate crises.” as Canadian: ‘How does this affect me?’”

In addition to the significant loss of life, the report highlights how extreme heat events will cost Canadians nearly 43 million potential work hours in 2021. The resulting lost income was equivalent to about $916 billion, or 0.05 percent of Canada’s GDP.

Canada-specific data shows that 1,100 Canadians died in 2021 from air pollution from burning fossil fuels. Currently, nearly half of Canada’s domestic energy comes from fossil fuels, and despite their climate pledges, the 15 largest oil and gas companies in the world are expected to reduce their annual share of greenhouse gas emissions consistent with a climate-resilient world, according to The Lancet Countdown by almost 40 percent in 2030 and by more than 100 percent in 2040.

“To further aggravate this situation, governments continue to provide incentives for the production and consumption of fossil fuels,” the authors write.

Doctors’ groups in Canada have taken it upon themselves to ban fossil fuel advertising amid the health and environmental impacts of coal, oil and gas warming the planet. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and other groups, representing over half a million health workers across the country, wrote their concerns to the federal government earlier this year.

Persistent over-reliance on fossil fuels — globally and at home — is threatening the health of Canadians and people everywhere, researchers warn. #ClimateChange #CountdownReport

Globally, climate change is leading to reduced crop yields, food insecurity and drought, data in the report suggest. In Canada, this is manifesting itself in shrinking crop seasons for corn, soybeans and spring wheat, they say.

Lafontaine says the security of our food supply has implications for human health.

“Eventually everyone is going to experience the same impact… If we really are in a global crisis, there are going to be some very tough decisions about who gets what,” Lafontaine said. Canada needs to develop a plan so that we are prepared in the midst of a crisis when other countries are unable to provide us with food and other supplies in times of need, similar to what we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.

Food insecurity can be caused by many factors. In the wake of Hurricane Fiona, some community groups in Prince Edward Island expressed concern about how inflation, rent increases and the damage caused by the post-tropical storm are triggering food insecurity among low-income people.

“The climate crisis is killing us. It’s eroding not just the health of our planet, but the health of people everywhere — through toxic air pollution, declining food security, higher risks of infectious disease outbreaks, record extreme heat, drought, flooding and more,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in response to the countdown report.

“Human health, livelihoods, household budgets and national economies will be hit as fossil fuel dependency spirals out of control,” Guterres said. “The science is clear: Massive, judicious investments in renewable energy and climate resilience will ensure healthier and safer lives for people in every country.”

Like Guterres, the report points the way to a healthy future. Investments in clean energy will improve air quality and save 1.3 million lives annually, accelerated plant-based diets will more than halve greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector, and smart city design can help protect people during heat waves, they say. However, the report warns the world to act quickly to prevent the devastating climate and health impacts being predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other international bodies.

— With files from The Canadian Press and Cloe Logan

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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