Information and resources on how climate change affects our health.
Climate is the average weather in a place over many years. Climate change is a shift in those average conditions. What we are experiencing now is rapid climate change as a result of human activity.
The effects of climate change include:
- Overall changes in temperature
- Increases in extreme weather events
- Changes in patterns of disease
- Polar ice decline
- Sea level rise
- Changes in plant food production patterns
Climate change is one of the greatest threats to human health. British Columbia is already seeing the effects of global climate change. In 2021 we experienced a heat dome where hundreds of people in British Columbia lost their lives due to extreme heat-related ailments. Substantial impacts on emergency department visits were observed and a larger proportion of these visits required immediate and complex care.
Later that year, flooding occurred across B.C. The flooding blocked health and emergency services and caused extreme displacement of individuals from their homes. Flooding also destroyed local food systems and made it challenging to deliver vital supplies, such as life-saving medicine. The flooding triggered provincial flood response actions from Health Emergency Management B.C. and partners to protect and support impacted individuals and communities.
Extreme weather and concerns over climate change can impact our mental health, causing longer term anxiety and grief. Those who already have mental health concerns face a greater impact compared to others.
Causes of climate change
Global warming occurs when air pollutants collect in the atmosphere and absorb sunlight. This sunlight would normally escape into space, but these pollutants trap the heat. These heat-trapping air pollutants are greenhouse gases and cause the planet to warm. They can stay in the atmosphere for many years. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and synthetic fluorinated gases are examples of air pollutants. The greenhouse effect describes the impact of these greenhouse gases.
Natural cycles have caused the earth’s climate to change several times over the last 800,000 years. But our current era of global warming is a direct result of human actions. Our burning of fossil fuels, including coal, gasoline and natural gas, causes the greenhouse effect. The largest sources of greenhouse gases in Canada are:
- Heat and electricity production, and other combustion (44 per cent)
- Transportation (30 per cent)
- Agriculture (eight per cent)
To slow the rate of global warming, we need large emissions cuts and substitutes to fossil fuels. Many countries have already pledged to reduce their emissions. This will involve setting new standards and crafting new policies to meet or exceed them.
Climate change and health equity
While climate change affects everyone, we know that it impacts certain groups more. For example, the smoke of increased wildfires from climate change will affect children, older persons and those with existing health problems more. Similarly, increased droughts from climate change can contribute to higher food prices and availability, unequally affecting those with lower incomes. The table below outlines how climate change affects different populations.