Our climate is changing. In New Brunswick we have seen increased severe storms, flooding, wildfires and hotter days. Scientists are certain that the changes we are experiencing are the result of people’s actions. Our use of fossil fuels (e.g. oil and gas) and intense agriculture has caused a build up of “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere. Normally, the earth is heated by the sun’s rays, and some of those rays get reflected back out into space. But greenhouse gases act like a blanket that lets the sun’s rays in and traps them close to the earth, causing the temperature to rise.
In New Brunswick the temperatures have already increased by 1.5°C¹ compared to historical records, which is similar to the average in the rest of Canada, but twice the global average. Climate change has been deemed the greatest public health threat of our time, affecting respiratory and cardiovascular health, mental well being, increasing instances of vector-born diseases, and harm from extreme weather events.
Sources of Greenhouse Gases (GHG's)
- Oil and gas production: Currently the oil and gas industry is the largest emitter of GHG in Canada, at 26%². This comes from the production of natural gas, conventional oil, and the various aspects of oil sands processing.
- Transportation: In Canada, transportation accounts for 25%² of total GHG emissions. This includes the use of fossil fuel based vehicles, including air planes, trains, boats, and cars, which may carry people or products.
- Agriculture: In agricultural practices, greenhouse gases are emitted by livestock, when fertilizers are added, irrigation practices, and more. Emissions from agriculture accounts for 10%² of total GHG emissions in Canada.
- Energy production: Burning fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas for energy production releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This happens at large power plants and in homes using those same fuels for heating. In Canada, electricity production accounts for 9%² of the national emissions. This is one of few areas where Canada has lowered our emissions over the last 30 years by phasing out coal and introducing renewable sources such as hydro, wind, and solar.
Climate Change and its Health Effects in New Brunswick
- Air quality – As the climate changes, the air we breathe becomes more humid and holds more particles than it would before. We are now breathing in more particles from fires, fuel emissions and more. This increases our risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, and preterm birth.
- Heat – The number of extreme heat days in NB is expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades, all regions experiencing 2-3x more extreme heat days than in the past. This puts New Brunswickers at risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sun burns.
- Vector born diseases – The increased temperatures in NB means that black-legged ticks have expanded their range into our province. These ticks are known to carry Lyme disease which they can transfer to humans while attached. In 2019 there were 35 confirmed cases of Lyme disease3, and in 2016 there were just 8 confirmed cases.4 Changing temperatures may also impact the range of mosquitos carrying West Nile disease, as detected in several birds in Saint John in 2018.5
- Extreme weather – The warming climate also causes an increase in precipitation, NB will see an increase of 6-7% from 2005.6 The excess of snow and rain then increases the frequency and severity of major flood events. This and other extreme weather events like ice and wind storms cause power outages and contamination from flood water which puts people at risk of hypothermia, heat exhaustion, loss of food, and infection among other things.
All of these effects, and others are impacting our mental wellbeing. Especially in young people, eco-anxiety is becoming more common. Other mental health impacts include increases in depression, strains of social relationships, PTSD, aggression and violence, feelings of helplessness and fatalism.
Doing Your Part
- Reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions.
- Choose biking, walking, public transit and carpooling over driving alone to lower emissions. Biking and walking also directly benefits our health and wellness by incorporating exercise into your day.
- Consider going electric for your next vehicle purchase, improving the air quality we breathe.
- Save energy at home by turning out lights, keeping temperatures moderate, and making your home more energy efficient. This can lower the amount of energy produced which may improve air quality and keep energy costs low.
- Shop locally, reducing emissions from shipping items across long distances and reducing out exposure to traffic related pollution.
- Most of us need to be eating more fruits and veggies, and by cutting back on your meat consumption you can also lower the emissions on your plate while improving nutrition.
- Shop second hand for clothing, home décor, kitchen tools, vehicles, and more
- Compost your food waste at home or pay for a pickup service
- Reduce your waste by buying fewer items with less packaging.
- Advocate for change in policy at all levels of government
How to be Prepared
- Make an emergency readiness plan and 72-hr emergency kit for your household in case of flood, ice storm, or power outage. Your plan should include a meeting place if the family is dispersed at school or work and updated emergency contacts, including local emergency response numbers. Your 72-hour emergency kit should have water, flashlights/batteries, cash, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, sanitation supplies, and adequate supplies for pets or infants.7
- In extreme heat, seek shade and drink water before being thirsty. Use temperature, humidex, and AQHI forecasting to help plan outdoor activities. Cover up and wear sunscreen when exposed to the sun and close your blinds to keep heat out of your house.
- Flood cleanup: If your home has been flooded do not re-enter until authorities have said it is safe to do so. Remove water slowly and do not use appliances until properly dried and inspected by a qualified technician. Fuel-powered equipment being used to dry the building should be used only in well ventilated areas to prevent the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. You will need to discard insulation, particle board furniture, medicine, food, and stuffed or cushioned furniture such as mattresses. Be sure to wear protective gear while cleaning after a flood, gloves, masks, boots or waders, etc.8
- Wear tick appropriate clothing such as long pants tucked into long socks or boots, long-sleeved shirts tucked into pants when hiking.
- Check for ticks after walks in areas with woody shrubs and tall grasses, along the edges of wooded or forested areas. Check especially thoroughly in warm areas like the scalp and behind ears, under arms, behind knees, inside the belly button, between your legs and around the pelvic area.
- What to do if you find a tick? Remove it from your body immediately using fine-tipped tweezers or a specialized tool. Send a picture of the tick to ETick.ca and save the tick in a jar or baggy in the freezer with a record of the date and location of the tick bite. Watch for early symptoms of Lyme disease such as a rash and flu-like symptoms.
Air Quality Health Index
In forest fire season, NB air quality can be hazardous to our lungs. The AQHI monitors air quality by testing for ground level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter from pollution and fires. You can find the current air quality rating in your region on the Government of Canada website.
1: Environment Canada and Government of New Brunswick.
2: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2020) National Inventory Report 1990-2018: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada.
3: CBC News. February 12, 2020. Woman gets Lyme disease diagnosis after 13-year battle, as number of cases rises.
4: Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. May 2017. New Brunswick Lyme Disease Strategy 2017.
5: Government of New Brunswick. News Release. Oct. 12, 2018.
6: Comeau, L., & Nunes, D. (2019). Health Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health. Retrieved from Fredericton, New Brunswick: www.conservationcouncil.ca
7: NB Power- Are You Prepared
8: Government of Canada - After a Flood