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Questions on Climate Change and Health

What causes climate change?

Climate change is caused by an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases like methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. They’re called greenhouse gases because they trap heat from the sun. As humans emit more of these gases into the air, the trapped sunlight warms our atmosphere.

In Ontario, greenhouse gas emissions come from many sources. Emissions mainly come from burning fossil fuels for transportation, from industry, and from the energy needed for commercial and residential buildings. Other emissions also come from the agricultural sector, waste disposal, and electrical generation.  

How much will our climate change?

In Simcoe Muskoka, temperatures have increased since the middle of the 20th century, and are projected to increase by the end of this century. By the 2020s, temperature increase above 1990 levels is expected to make the climate in Southern Ontario feel like Ohio; by the 2050s, our climate will be similar to that of Kentucky; and by the 2080s, our regular climate will be like that of Mississippi today. 

How does climate change affect health?
  • More summer heat warnings can cause heat-related hospitalizations.
  • More extreme storms can cause injuries and illnesses, as well as community-wide emergencies.
  • Poor air quality can lead to increases in respiratory illness. More exposure to UV radiation can cause increases in skin cancer.
  • Changing weather will also affect water and food quality, and the ability to grow food.
  • Warming temperatures will attract more insects that carry diseases like West Nile virus and Lyme disease.
Who is going to be affected by climate change?

Everyone in our communities feels the effects of climate change. But it can be harder on the health of some people. Factors like age, gender, health status, and access to resources all influence how much impact our changing climate will have. 

What is the health unit doing about climate change?

The health unit has created a Climate Change Action Plan. This plan focuses on two areas:

  • to decrease the carbon footprint of the agency, and

  • to help people adapt, through programs like our extreme temperature response strategy.

We’ve also created a Climate Change and Health Vulnerability Assessment that highlights what our climate is going to look like out to the 2080s, and what some of our health impacts for the region will be. To read the report, see the resources below. We are also encouraging action on climate change by

  • advocating for communities that are walkable, include green space, and allow for people to live, work and play;
  • supporting sustainable local food systems, from production to distribution and, consumption, to disposal of food waste,
  • educating about, and monitoring for insects that transmit diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease, and
  • providing advice when heat and cold warnings are issued.
What can I do about climate change?

We all need to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.

  •  Reduce your waste — Do you recycle and use your organics bins? Or better yet, can you reduce or reuse items you already have? Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, comes from products buried in landfills. Reducing the amount of products we consume, and the number that end up in the trash, can help decrease our carbon footprint.
  • Leave the car at home Walk, bike, or take public transit to get to work or run errands when you can. Or if you have to drive, plan your route to decrease the distance that you are driving and reduce emissions.  This is a win-win for the environment and for your health.
  • Prepare for emergencies — As our climate changes, extreme weather events are going to become more common. Be prepared by putting together an emergency kit and by making a plan for your family for when an emergency strikes.
  •  Plant a tree – increasing the number of trees in our communities not only decreases the amount of carbon, it also creates shade and cools the surrounding areas.
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