Published Sept. 1, 2020
To the Editor,
The Canadian government recently reported that Canadians could suffer from more heat-related illnesses and deaths during the summer months as the clock ticks towards 2100. Science-based data obtained by the Canadian government informs us that by the year 2100 summer temperatures in Canada could increase by six degrees Celsius (6°C) or more. This will mean that Canadians will have to endure ambient daytime temperatures of 50°C plus, unless the collective policies of all the world’s governments unite and and pass legislation to reduce global CO2 emissions to at least those specified in the Paris Accord. In 2020 most of us find heat stress debilitating once the ambient temperature is approaching 40°C. We can only imagine how awful, disturbing and stressful it will be for those alive in 2100, if global warming is not limited to 1.5°C and summertime temperatures surge to 50°C or more.
As ambient temperatures reach new heights, major health effects can occur. One of the most life threatening conditions related to high ambient temperatures is heatstroke. Heatstroke is a serious medical emergency associated with a death rate and chronic disability for many who survive. In a state of heatstroke a person’s temperature can sore as high as 41°C since the body can no longer self-regulate. At such high body temperatures sweating stops and the body temperature reaches toxic levels. Mental confusion progressing to delirium, convulsions and loss of consciousness, associated with organ failure of the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver can occur as the heat stroke progresses. Sadly, despite medical interventions many with severe heatstroke die.
Canada has already experienced summertime temperatures over 40°C. One of Canada’s worst events occurred in Montreal and surrounding areas in July 2018. During this summer of extreme heat many suffered from heat stress, which led to heat stroke in some cases. It is estimated that more than 70 people in the Montreal area died from heat stroke and its fatal complications in the summer of 2018. Most of those who died were elderly, more often male, lived alone and had one or more chronic diseases.
The events of heat stroke and climate crisis can be reduced by individual actions and by creative government policies at all levels of government in Canada and the world. Combating climate change and global warming should become the number one priority in our personal lives and in government policies. Climate scientists say that there is still time to limit global warming to 1.5°C, but that we have only 10 years or so in which to achieve this. If the increase in global temperature is not limited to 1.5°C within this short 10-year window of opportunity, the multitudinous ravages of the climate crisis and its disastrous environmental and health effects will be the inheritance that we will leave for future generations. The ways of life in Canada that we now cherish will be forever gone.
We all are part of the problem and part of the solution. As individuals we can drive less, walk and bike more, buy smaller vehicles (electric if you can afford one!), fly less, have more “staycations,” consume less, eat more of a plant-based diet, and enjoy more of the simple pleasures that life offers! At all political levels of government, addressing climate change should remain or become one of the main priorities of government legislation. Businesses too have a major role to play, and many businesses have become leaders on this issue. All institutes of learning should offer their students courses on environmental issues. Faith groups and service clubs should continue to make their followers and members aware of the dangers that our offspring will have to face if we do not personally and collectively continue to address the environmental crisis in which we now live.
In 2020, the greatest legacy that parents and grandparents can leave for all children and grandchildren is a healthy, enjoyable, stable environment and ways of life similar to those that we have enjoyed here in Canada for many years.
Jim Hollingworth MD