Action Alert: The World is on Fire – Ontario needs an Ambitious Climate Action Plan

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, August 2018

The world is on fire and we need to act quickly and decisively.

North America, Africa, northern Europe, and the Arctic were hit with an intense and prolonged heat wave this summer.  In Spain and Portugal, people were exposed to temperatures as high as 46 degrees C this summer – that is 114 degrees F.  In Japan, where temperatures peaked at 41 degrees C, 70,000 people were hospitalized for heat-related illnesses.  In Quebec, where heat-related deaths are tracked in real-time, July’s heat wave claimed the lives of 90 people in just one week. In Ontario, we sweltered through 21 days with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees C (at the Toronto Airport) with very high humidity.

The worldwide heat wave fuelled deadly wildfires around the world.  More than 90 people were killed in wildfires in Greece, nine in California, and one in Canada this summer.  Canadians across the country had to deal with wildfires that threatened their lives, health, property, and livelihood. British Columbia declared a provincial state of emergency in August as it fought to contain nearly 600 wildfires.  Ontario saw the number of wildfires increase from 354 in 2017 to about 900 this year. Thousands in Ontario and British Columbia (BC) were evacuated from their homes, cottages and provincial parks because of wildfires.

These wildfires have exposed millions of Canadians to hazardous levels of air pollution.  Ontario’s wildfires gave rise to air quality advisories across northern Ontario and Manitoba, while smoke from BC’s wildfires blanketed much of British Columbia and Alberta with extremely high levels of air pollution and produced air quality advisories across Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

While some are calling this the “new normal”, climate scientists disagree.  They say this is a transitional time; that we are coming dangerously close to a tipping point with climate change.  They say that we are quickly approaching a temperature that could trigger feedback cycles that drive the global temperature to 4 or 5 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures. These are not temperatures that people can live and work in without technological assistance.  They are temperatures that could be associated with sea levels that are 10 to 60 meters above current sea levels.

We are deeply concerned that our newly elected Ontario Government chose this summer to begin dismantling a climate action plan that was 10 years in development. The Ontario Government is repealing a cap and trade program that encouraged industry to cut emissions in a cost-effective way, while collecting $2.8 billion in funds that were being used to fund public transit, cycling infrastructure and energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for schools, farms, hospitals, indigenous communities, and municipalities.

In Ontario where the greatest sources of climate emissions are the transportation sector (33%), buildings (22%), and industry (18%), we need policies and programs that can cut climate emissions from these sources deeply and quickly.  The good news is that many of the actions needed will produce immediate benefits for human health, the cost of living, and the economy.  Investments in public transit will reduce air pollution and health care costs, save commuters money, and decrease traffic congestion. Investments in energy efficiency for homes, schools, hospitals and low-income housing will reduce air pollution and health care costs, and save consumers and taxpayers money, while creating local jobs.  And investments in renewable energy and electric technologies will reduce air pollution and health care costs while encouraging innovation and new economic opportunities.

Let your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) know that you are worried about climate change; that we need a climate action plan that will help Ontario to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Sign the petition below to let Premier Doug Ford know that you care about climate change; that you want his government to take dramatic action to fight climate change quickly.

As health professionals, we believe that climate change is the public health crisis of the twenty-first century.  We fear for our children and grand-children.  We worry about the health of the planet upon which all life is dependent.   We can make real progress on climate change while creating healthier, more sustainable communities.  Let’s make sure Ontario’s new government understands that Ontarians care enough about their children’s future to make purposeful action on climate change a top priority.

Other important links:

Carbon tax is being used to improve our health – September 19, 2018

Montreal’s Deadly Heat Wave a Taste of the Future without Action – July 7, 2018

BC Wildfires are threatening the health of Canadians in Four Provinces – August 21, 2018

‘The lost summer’: the emotional and spiritual toll of the smoke apocalypse by The Narwhal 

This is about what we breathe: Doctors warn about health impacts of climate change by CBC

Opinion: Wake up and smell the smoke by Doctors Larry Barzelai and Melissa Lem