Editorial: Mitigating heat risk needs attention

As you read this editorial, much of the province will be baking in a short-term heat wave. High heat, combined with high humidity, will make the region an uncomfortable mess for residents and visitors alike. And it has only just begun.

Weather forecasters have predicted a hotter and drier summer this year than normal, to no one’s surprise. In fact, that gap between the extremes of winter and summer – also known as spring – is shrinking every year. Call it global warming, climate change, or whatever name you want. Evidence points to our ever changing climate swinging between the two extremes with less and less time to transition.

The Leader has written editorials in past years on the need to future-proof our institutional infrastructure like municipal buildings and schools – many of which are 50-plus years old. These buildings need better air handling and air cooling systems to make them usable during times of extreme heat. Imagine how warm the second floor of any school must be when the thermometer jumps above 25 C and there is no air conditioning. In as much as this is an issue for users of institutional buildings, there is an even greater issue for cooling – residences.

It is generally acknowledged that we are in a housing availability crisis – locally, provincially, and nationally. While there are a great many people who live comfortably in their homes, there are many in need of stable and affordable housing. Even more so, when housing is unaffordable and/or unattainable, reasonably comfortable and safe air conditions are needed. A 2022 British Columbia coroners report cited the lack of adequate cooling in apartments and housing as the cause of over 600 heat-related deaths during a 2021 heat dome that struck the province. At least 70 heat-related deaths were attributed to a similar heat wave in Montréal in 2018. Many of those who died were elderly, or lived alone, or had some form of vicarious housing issue. Extreme heat issues in the environment are not going to improve anytime soon, even if climate action of some sort is accomplished.

What is needed in the short and mid term is mitigation to deal with the heat issues when and where they occur. This includes some sort of program to help get some temperature relief for those most at risk of suffering heat-related illness. If we have adequate resources for cooling our institutional buildings, we need to open the use of those buildings for people to shelter from the heat – at hours that work for those affected. Opening a shelter from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. helps no one if that resident does not get home from work until 6 p.m. For the elderly, and those who are housebound, more effort must be made to check on those individuals so that heat-related health issues do not get worse. This can be done through a community effort, or by agencies.

It is clear that, in mitigating these issues, more attention must be paid to those who are most at risk. It will cost time, effort, and money – all necessary for the health of those involved.

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