Climate Change and its Effects on Human Health and Safety

Climate change has implications for the health and safety of many Indigenous communities. Most of the health and safety implications of Indigenous peoples have already been alluded to in previous sections. Below are ways that climate change can have an impact on Indigenous health and safety.

Effects on Human Health

Temperatures are predicted to increase in all regions of Canada. An increase in temperature can affect Indigenous peoples in many ways. Since many Indigenous communities have substandard housing that offers little to no protection against the heat, summer heatwaves are a major concern, especially in regions such as the prairies and Ontario, where summer temperatures are usually higher than the rest of Canada. Increasing intense temperatures in the summer leading to extreme heat waves and extreme smog conditions may affect the respiratory capability of vulnerable parts of the community, including Indigenous youth, seniors, and the sick (Health Canada, 2001; Last et al., 1998). Increased precipitation and higher moisture levels in some Indigenous communities will likely increase the incidences of indoor mold. As mentioned earlier, health concerns related to mold include respiratory problems such as coughing and wheezing, sneezing, and nose and chest congestion. Molds can also trigger asthma attacks and can weaken the immune system of those exposed (Health Canada, 2006). As a result of warmer winter temperatures, Indigenous food security becomes an issue due to winter road transportation issues and to the potential changes in traditional diets as a result of the loss of certain plant or animal species.

Effects on Human Safety

As temperatures affect ice cover, safety also becomes an issue. As ice cover becomes unstable or unpredictable, travel over the ice becomes more of a hazard. In times of freeze up or break up, unstable weather patterns can change the length of the season. If hunters travel on the ice too early, dangerous conditions can be encountered, such as open water and thin ice. In times of break up, hunting expeditions can become isolated if temperatures increase too fast and expedite the time of break up. Traditional Knowledge about times of freeze up and break up are not as accurate as they once were. Extra care is usually needed when traveling near the beginning or end of the winter season but now it is a consideration even in the middle of winter as ice conditions are no longer predictable. The animals themselves can suffer from longer open water seasons. For example, polar bears need sea ice to launch hunting expeditions for ringed seals, their primary prey, but longer open water seasons restrict the time they can hunt each year. As polar bears are freed to remain on the land longer, they now pose a health risk to coastal communities. If polar bears are stranded on land for a longer period of time, the search for food becomes vital. Polar bears may start to look towards coastal communities for food, and this may put people, pets and the community at risk.