A healthy debate on climate change 

Another record – and repeated – year for severe spring flooding has hit parts of Canada and our region has also suffered in its wake.

Climate change is blamed by many as the culprit. Given its growing impact we need to view climate change as not just an environmental problem but a public health emergency.

Let’s use flooding as an example. Stress and anxiety tied to rising waters directly affects our physical and mental well-being. Flooding can contaminate wells and drinking water supplies leading to potential illness. Surging flood waters entering homes can also lead to mould and other environmental problems.

Other climate change “events” – extreme temperatures violent storms destructive wildfires intense rain and severe ice storms – also pose health risks to us. Given we are already experiencing these locally how do we adapt?

The local health unit is currently assessing the health impacts of climate change in Haliburton County Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes. Everyone can be impacted by climate change but some people are more affected than others due to age ability income occupation and other factors. The health unit is identifying who is most vulnerable and developing strategies and partnerships to ensure that everyone in our community is ready to adapt to the health risks posed by climate change.

Municipalities are key partners in this work and considerable political leadership is being shown locally. Earlier this spring Haliburton County council committed funds to begin work on a County of Haliburton Climate Change Action Plan. It will outline municipal environmental sustainability priorities establish goals and targets and identify actions to achieve them. The first phase will focus on mitigation and measure the current impact municipal services have on climate.

Each of us has a role to play too. We can start by reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions which are known to drive climate change. Park your car and instead walk cycle or take public transit to your destination. When looking for your next vehicle consider a hybrid or electric model.

At home we can use energy more wisely – and save money in the process. Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs unplug computers/TV/electronics when not in use hang clothes outside to dry in nicer weather and get an energy audit done to find energy-saving gains.

As a community we can support local initiatives that fight climate change and join grassroots eco-friendly groups that are trying to make a difference. We can ask political candidates where they stand on climate action and keep this in mind at the ballot box.

When we connect the dots we realize climate change is not a distant threat; it is a real public health emergency that hits close to home. The clock is ticking… and the time is NOW for climate action in Haliburton County!

Sue Shikaze is a health promoter at HKPR Health Unit working to research and respond to the health impacts of climate change in this area.