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Climate Change

A lake in the shape of the world's continents in the middle of untouched nature. A metaphor for conservation, climate change, global warming and the fragility of nature.

Climate change is a major crisis that poses many threats to the environment and to our health. But in our communities, not everyone is affected in the same ways. Some people are more at-risk. It’s good to know how climate change affects our health, so that we can take steps to protect ourselves, our families, and our community.

Understanding Climate Change and Its Impact on Our Health

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in the weather patterns of a region. This includes things like temperature, rainfall, winds, and storms. Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases that are released when fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and gas are burned. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. Over time, this warming leads to things like more intense heat waves, wildfires, floods, and droughts.

Climate change can affect our health in different ways. It can make existing health problems worse. It can also create new health risks that didn’t exist before. Here are some health impacts linked to climate change:

  • Extreme Temperatures and Weather: Rising temperatures can cause more illnesses related to heat, especially for older adults, people with chronic illnesses, and those who can’t easily find a place to cool off. On the other hand, extreme cold can also be a health risk, especially for people who are unhoused.
  • Air Quality: Climate change can make the air more polluted, which can make breathing problems like asthma worse. It can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Breathing in things like smog, fine particles, and pollen can harm our lungs.
  • Diseases Carried by Insects: Warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall create good conditions for insects like mosquitoes and ticks that carry diseases to survive and breed. This means there is a higher risk of getting diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile virus.
  • Safe Food and Water: Climate change affects the quality and safety of food and water. Higher temperatures and extreme weather can make food and water sources unsafe, which increases the risk of getting sick from them. People with weak immune systems and low-income individuals are at higher risk.
  • Solar Ultra Violet (UV) Radiation: People who work and play outdoors, especially children and youth, have greater exposure to solar UV radiation.

Not everyone is affected in the same way by climate change. Some groups of people can be more at risk because of where they live, their age and physical/mental health, and social factors like poverty, racism and discrimination. Vulnerability depends on three main things:

  • Exposure: How much people encounter climate-related hazards like extreme temperatures, poor air quality, and diseases carried by insects.
  • Sensitivity: How much climate change affects individuals or communities. Things like existing health conditions and age can make people more sensitive.
  • Adaptive Capacity: How well communities, institutions, and individuals can deal with and recover from challenges caused by climate change. This includes planning and being ready to respond and recover.

Climate Change Health Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment Report

Release by the HKPR District Health Unit in June 2023, the Climate Change Health Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment presents a comprehensive analysis of the current and future impacts of climate change on the health of residents in the HKPR Health Unit District area. It identifies the most vulnerable populations impacted most by climate change and provides recommendations on building adaptive capacity to reduce the associated health risks.

According to the report, climate change can affect health in two main ways:

  1. It can worsen existing health conditions.
  2. It can introduce new health threats in areas where they have not been previously observed.

Many programs of the HKPR District Health Unit address the health risks posed by climate change, including public education, collaborative initiatives, and advocacy for policy changes.

Next Steps

The next phase of this work is the development of a Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan that will provide a detailed roadmap for implementing adaptive measures to ensure the future health and well-being of the community. 

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