Alberta is not ready for a warming world

Last week’s brutal, historic heat wave has highlighted just how unprepared Alberta is for climate change—and shown us just who will be most at risk.

Alberta has yet to fully tabulate the fatalities but the numbers from British Columbia, hit by the heat just before us, are bleak. The BC Coroners’ Service estimates that in our neighboring province nearly 600 people were killed by the heat. We can surely expect some grim statistics of our own once Alberta’s numbers are crunched.

The demographic characteristics of the most vulnerable aren’t surprising, as they’re largely the same categories of people our society usually consigns to death and misery: people who are unhoused, people who are struggling with poverty, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Of the latter category we once again see long-term-care facilities (particularly the private ones) turning into death-traps; in many provinces in Canada, LTC homes aren’t even required to have air conditioning. AC does not appear to be mandated by Alberta’s own LTC facility guidelines.

Climate change deniers often bleat after extreme weather incidents like these that isolated occurrences are not proof of a trend. But we’re far beyond the point of these occurrences being isolated, now. Records are being repeatedly broken, year after year, and have been for over a decade. There is an overwhelming amount of data demonstrating that Earth is getting hotter and that greenhouse gases are to blame.

But there is more to meeting the challenge of climate change than just doing our part to rein it in. Thanks to a couple decades of inaction there is a significant amount of damage to the climate that is now already locked-in; that pollution is already in the air, and while we might be able to avert three degrees of global warming, we’re likely stuck with at least one. Thanks to the way probability works—imagine a bell curve being shifted one notch over to the right—that means more extreme weather events like that heat wave. And that, in turn, means we need to get ready. At the moment we simply aren’t.

Why aren't those LTC homes air-conditioned? Why do our cities have barely any public washrooms or water fountains that unhoused folks can use? Why is there so little shade from trees in low-income neighborhoods? Why do our hospitals have so little surge capacity? These and more are questions we badly need to answer before the next heat wave hits.

This isn’t a hopeless scenario. We absolutely have the means to protect each other from something as simple as heat. But it’s going to take a bit of a push to get institutions that already are happy to sacrifice vulnerable people to start protecting them. Candidates for municipal elections—and possibly federal elections, too—will be at your door seeking your support soon. I recommend having the big question ready for them: there will definitely be a terrible heat wave again—what are you going to do to protect us from it?


An earlier version of this newsletter attributed the total heat-related fatalities in British Columbia to only Vancouver Island. This newsletter has been modified to include a correction.

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