The forecast is dire — but the solutions we need to slow climate change will make us happier and healthier

Flood 2019

The sky is clear and the sun is punishing.

A thick layer of ozone ripples above the pavement. No matter how much water you drink, you know you’re losing more through your pores whether you’re moving or not.

And for a lot of New Brunswickers, a province with more folks over 65 years of age than any other province, activity is out of the question.

It’s the fourth 30+ degree day in a row. You’re restless. Exhausted, despite having been shuttered inside, blinds drawn, melting in your chair, since the heat wave hit.

You’ve weathered these days before, over the years. But never in such succession. Never so persistent.

You feel depressed as you realize that there are fewer and fewer of those beautiful, tepid, liberating New Brunswick summer days, and it’s not going to get any better. 

This is just life now.

An (un)real scenario 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The scenario described above is a science-based snapshot of where life is headed in New Brunswick if governments, businesses and industries don’t take serious action to limit carbon pollution causing the climate crisis we’re already experiencing.

How bad will it get? What will it mean for everyday life in New Brunswick? Who will suffer the most? Can we do anything about it?

Healthy Climate Healthy New Brunswickers 1 1These questions are tackled in the Conservation Council’s new report from Dr. Louise Comeau,
Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health, released today (June 25).

A spoiler for you: there is hope. There are concrete actions we can take to change the stark forecast described above and in the report. 

But first, a look at what scientific research and health data in New Brunswick predicts about life in the picture province between 2021-2050.

The bad news

You may not think climate change is a public health issue. With the overwhelming focus on environmental degradation, species loss, and damage to public and private infrastructure, you could be forgiven. But when we combine existing research from sources such as the Canada Climate Atlas and New Brunswick Health Council’s community health profiles, among others, we get a sobering story indeed.

This is what Dr. Comeau does in our report, the first comprehensive look at how climate change will affect the physical and mental health of all New Brunswickers, but particularly the very young, seniors, the isolated, and those living on low incomes.

In the report, Dr, Comeau combines climate projections and existing community health profiles for 16 New Brunswick communities, including the Edmundston, Campbellton, Dalhousie, Bathurst, Caraquet, Miramichi, Moncton, Sackville, Sussex, Oromocto, Fredericton, Minto, Woodstock, Grand Falls, St. Stephen, and Saint John areas. 

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How’s the weather out there?

New Brunswickers aren’t used to hot, 30+ degree days, let alone long stretches of them. But that’s what the data says is coming in the immediate- to medium-term.

Comeau’s analysis shows that each of the communities listed above will experience between 122 to 300 per cent more 30+ degree days in the summer over the next 30 years if we don’t come together to eliminate the heat-trapping pollution causing global heating.

Fredericton, for example, can expect at least 20 of these scorching days a summer, compared to the 1976-2005 average of eight — up 150 per cent. 

Bathurst could experience at least 14 hot days by 2021 to 2050, up from an average of six. The Miramichi and Minto regions will have 20 scorchers, Oromocto will have 21 (up from 9), Woodstock will have 15 (up from six), St. Stephen will have 11 (up from 4) and the Sussex area will have 12 (up from 4), to name a few.

This is a big departure from what is normal. Temperature influences natural cycles, our lifestyles and our physical and mental health. 

We know heat waves, for example, can cause death in the elderly or sick as seen in recent years in Europe, the United States and Québec. And then there’s the reality of hotter conditions exacerbating existing health conditions, or helping to cause them.

Health researchers from around the world find that climatic changes affect and contribute to cardiovascular disease and respiratory conditions (more air pollution, greater frequency of and more extreme forest fires, droughts and dust storms), allergic reactions (especially ragweed), cancer, traumatic injuries, vector-borne illnesses (from disease-carrying insects; think black-legged ticks), food and water-borne illnesses (contaminated water, prime conditions for bacterial growth), malnutrition, and mental health (being displaced from your home, grief from losing cherished possessions and property, and extreme weather-induced stress, anxiety and depression). 

More frost-free days — but don’t get excited yet

Comeau’s analysis shows higher average temperatures, especially in spring and winter, increase the number of frost-free days per year. In New Brunswick, that means between 19-22 more frost-free days a year between 2021-2050, compared to the 1976-2005 average.

But don’t get excited yet.

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Warmer temperatures increase the risk of exposure to ticks carrying Lyme disease and pave the road for the expansion and establishment of other tick species and diseases. We’re seeing this already, especially in southern New Brunswick.  In 2017, there were 29 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the province, up from eight cases reported the year before. 

More intense rainfall events, more extreme floods

Increases in temperature means more precipitation is forecast for New Brunswick in the coming decades. That’s because warmer air holds more moisture. Scientists calculate that for every one degree Celsius increase in temperature, the atmosphere can hold seven per cent more water. 

What does this mean? Comeau’s analysis shows we are likely to experience less frequent but much more intense precipitation events, increasing the annual total volume of precipitation across the entire province.

This will mean more intense rainfall, more snow, and increases to snow depth — adding to spring freshet worries and flood risk.  It also means more freezing rain causing winter flooding and ice jams, and ice-on-snow cover making walking dangerous, especially for seniors.

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New Brunswick experienced record-breaking floods along the Wolastoq (St. John) River in 2018 and 2019, partly caused by above average snowpack and rain (at least partly due to our changing climate). There are, of course, other factors, such as land-and-forest use, and poor development planning in flood plains that, combined with natural variability and super-charging by climate change, increases the probability of extreme events, including flooding.

Projections show we’re likely to see the amount of rain falling in spring increase seven to nine per cent in the immediate to medium-term, with the amount of snow, rain and freezing rain in winter increasing eight to 11 per cent (with the higher amounts in northern communities).

Recently, University of Moncton hydrologist Nassir El-Jabi told CBC he estimates frequent but minor floods could see water levels increase 30 to 55 per cent by 2100 in New Brunswick, and extreme floods like those in 2018 and 2019 could be 21 per cent bigger by 2100. 

As Comeau writes in our report, “It is getting hotter, wetter, extreme, and less safe because greenhouse gas levels are not where they need to be and we are not changing the way we do things.”

Feeling down and out

We know young children and adults are increasingly anxious about climate change, as demonstrated by the global School Strike for Climate movement started by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. This winter and spring students in Fredericton, Moncton, Campbellton, Edmundston, Saint John and Sackville joined the movement, walking out of school to protest government and industry inaction on climate change.

Mental health professionals are increasingly worried about the psychological effects of climate change. Research shows climate change effects such as flooding and extended power outages can undermine well-being and cause ecoanxiety, a “chronic fear of environmental doom.” 

Beyond the immediate stress and anxiety of disasters fueled by climate change, the chronic mental health affects these events bring about is even more frightening.

According to the American Psychology Association, these effects include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide, substance misuse, strained social relationships, aggression, violence, and feelings of helplessness, fear and fatalism — just to name a few.

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What’s this all mean?

If you are a senior or single parent living on low income, in an under-insulated home with no air conditioning, you are more at risk from extreme heat and extreme weather events. You might not have a vehicle to leave home, or you may have fewer social contacts to reach out to if the power goes out.  

A senior woman living alone on a low income, with one or more chronic health issues, and who has few social contacts is especially vulnerable to the mental and physical health effects of extreme events made worse by climate change. 

A person with asthma is more at risk from hotter days and more smog (heart and lung-damaging ground-level ozone).

New Brunswick generally has low levels of smog-related pollution. Communities like Saint John, Belledune and Edmundston, however, that house industrial operations (pulp and paper, coal-fired power, lead smelting, and oil refining), experience close to maximum levels for fine particulate matter and higher levels of smog.

Katie Hayes, a leading researcher focused on the mental health effects of climate change, points out in her recent paper that the mental health effects of climate change are accelerating, “resulting in a number of direct, indirect and overarching effects that disproportionately affect those who are most marginalized.”

The good news — a better scenario 

The sky is clear and the sun is punishing.

The mercury has breached 30 degrees, and you remember, 20-odd years ago, reading about the dire forecast that these days would become more and more the norm. You’re grateful that action, from communities to the highest levels of government and industry, didn’t let things get that bad.

All the same, on this day, you’re choosing to stay inside. You just can’t handle the heat like you could in your younger years.

But it’s beautiful. Specialized doors and windows, combined with a super-insulated attic, basement and walls, means you are comfortable no matter how hot or cold it gets outside.

You catch the glint of sunshine from the windshield of your electric car parked in the driveway. It’s charging from your rooftop solar panels and sleek battery bank on the wall, hidden by a painting from your favourite local artist.

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Even if you need more power than your panels and bank provide, you rest easy knowing it’s coming from a public utility powered entirely by renewable energy sources.

The coal-and-gas-fired power plants of yesteryear have long been shuttered, their workers enjoying a new gig in booming cleaner energy and technology sectors.

You hardly even think about air quality, not like you used to, then living next to Canada’s largest oil refinery in Saint John. 

Cancer rates are down across the board, including places like the Port City, Edmundston and Belledune, once dogged by heavy, polluting industries.

You get up, head to the kitchen, and make a sandwich for lunch from vegetables grown just one block away, at one of several community gardens dotting the landscape.

You smile. This is just life now.

A new way on

There is no way around it — our lives depend on energy and always will. But we can control whether this energy comes from sources that pollute our climate and negatively affect our health, like coal, oil and gas, or sources that offer a much better balance with what our planet can sustain. This is a choice we can make. 

Today, it’s a choice we must demand.

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The Conservation Council’s climate change and health report, along with our climate action plan released in 2016, provide a blueprint for achieving the healthier, happier scenario described in the section above. 

Slowing climate change will in turn fix so many social, environmental, health and labour problems that we can’t just look at it as a crisis — but as a tremendous opportunity to get things right. 

Yes, the science-based projections are dire. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we’ve got about 10 years to get serious about solving the problems of climate change. And, even then, we’ll still be dealing with some of the effects.

But we can get it right, we can limit the suffering. We must not despair, and we must not be discouraged. 

So what can you do right now?

Talk about climate change. Read the recommendations in Dr. Comeau’s report and share them with everyone you know. 

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By all means, do what you can in your home, life and workspace to limit the carbon pollution you add to the atmosphere. But the changes we have to make are bigger than better insulation and energy efficient appliances. 

Dr. Comeau’s report encourages everyone interested in protecting public health from the immediate and looming effects of climate change to speak out and demand action from politicians, businesses, and industry. 

There is a better way forward. It’s going to be hard work, but together, we can get there. 

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Click here to send your #climateaction letter

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Paddle for Facebook 2.0

The Conservation Council’s Fundy Baykeeper invites you to participate in a 10-km canoe or kayak paddle down the beautiful Musquash Estuary on Saturday, July 13th.

This fun event allows you to meander down the river and see the vast salt marshes, wildlife and historic shipwrecks in this treasured coastal area.

In 2006, the Musquash Estuary was designated a Marine Protected Area, the first in New Brunswick under the Canada Oceans Act. It was an accomplishment nearly a decade in the making for the Conservation Council and our many partners.

Our Musquash Paddle started as an event to bring paddlers to this gem as part of our campaign for protection. We now paddle the Musquash every year to enjoy it and to celebrate its protection.

Paddle for Facebook 2.0

Event details

  • Registration is $25 for individuals and $35 for families. Register below, call 506-529-8838 or email Matt Abbott at matt.abbott@conservationcouncil.ca. You can pay online or on site with cash or cheque (made payable to Conservation Council of New Brunswick) the day of the paddle.
  • Boat rentals can be obtained through Osprey Adventures.
  • The paddle starts just above the Highway #1 Bridge crossing at Musquash and goes to Black Beach. A map indicating the launch site can be found here, or on //www.google.ca/maps/@45.1784395,-66.2980495,13.75z/data=!4m2!6m1!1s1L52Quibdx6UOONYpKFZqhdIGIWg">this Google Map.
  • Our goal is to be on the water paddling at 9:30 a.m. rain or shine!
  • For those who may not wish to complete the full paddle, there will be a stop-off at Five Fathom Hole Wharf approximately 6 km along the route. We will continue through Musquash Harbour to Black Beach weather permitting.
  • There will be shuttles from both Five Fathom Hole and Black Beach to take people back to their cars.
  • All paddlers must wear life jackets. Please bring your own.
  • No motorized boats allowed.
  • Dress for changing weather and bring sunscreen, a hat, water and an en-route snack.
  • We will be holding a BBQ and celebration reception at Black Beach after the paddle.
Buy a ticket button

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The Milton F. Gregg Awards are back and bigger than ever!

The awards have been presented by the Conservation Council annually since 1981 to deserving individuals and organizations who have contributed to protecting New Brunswick’s environment.

This year we’ve expanded the Milton F Gregg Awards in celebration of our 50th year of environmental action in New Brunswick. You can now nominate your Eco-Hero in one of 15 categories!

The main Eco-Hero award is given in memory of Milton F. Gregg, who was a founding member of the Conservation Council and had a particular concern for the health of the Wolastoq (St. John) River. Gregg served as federal cabinet minister, diplomat and Chancellor of the University of New Brunswick.

Please submit nominations by July 31. Our selection committee will notify you and the nominee by September 1. Our awards ceremony will be held at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton on October 12th, 2019 from 7 – 9 p.m.

Click here to see our full list of catagories and submit your nomination Milton F Gregg Awards.

Call for Nominations: Environmental Journalism Award


The Conservation Council of New Brunswick is pleased to announce nominations are open for our 4th annual Beth McLaughlin Environmental Journalism Award. By recognizing the best environmental reporting, this award seeks to inspire journalists in all media, and showcase reporting that addresses important environmental issues in New Brunswick.

To be eligible for this year's award, entries must be predominantly about an environmental subject occurring in or affecting New Brunswick, and must have been published, broadcast, or posted in 2018.

Submit nominations to the CCNB Southeast Chapter Environmental Journalism Award Committee at ccnbsoutheast@gmail.com by July 31, 2019.

Full details: https://www.conservationcouncil.ca/en/call-for-nominations-2019-beth-mclaughlin-environmental-journalism-award/
The Conservation Council's Pathway to a Cleaner Future Eco Buildings Tour is tomorow June 1st from 10:00 am to 4:30 with locations in the greater Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton regions.  Whether you want to visit New Brunswick's first solar farm or see an off-grid micro brewery in action or speak with homeowners who have built or converted their homes to be completely off-grid, net zero or to passivhouse standards, or find out more about a four season greenhouse where you can grow your food year round, visit Saint John's largest rooftop solar project, learn more about Saint John Energy's community renewable energy projects and so much more.....be sure to register today at https://www.conservationcouncil.ca/en/reserve-your-ticket-to-a-low-carbon-future-today/

Jim Emberger, Spokesperson
New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance

[A slightly edited version of this appeared in “The Telegraph-Journal” and ”The Daily Gleaner” on May 17, 2019, under the the title ‘Public not well-informed on climate change’.]

I recently met a crew from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who were installing a new structure to count salmon smolt on the Tay River. In recent years the count has been disappointingly small, so new and better information is needed.

It’s always heartening to see dedicated people working to save our environment, but this morning I was left feeling that their task was like trying to hold back the tide.

I had just read the United Nations report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It concluded that human activities have pushed one million plant and animal species to the brink of extinction.

The reporting agency’s chair stated, "The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide."

Seems like the kind of consequential information everyone needs to know. But mainstream media barely covered it. Since most people still get their news from mainstream media, the citizens, politicians, pundits and publishers who will shape our future will do so in ignorance of the real world.

We just witnessed a similar failure of the press in the debate over carbon pricing, which took place with hardly any discussion of the essential context of the climate crisis.

Carbon pricing began simultaneously with the release of a momentous scientific report showing that Canada is warming at two or three times the rate as the rest of the world. One of the consequences is increased precipitation.

Days later another study reported that the arctic, as we have known it, is gone. High temperatures, that crush records by double digits, have altered almost every part of the arctic ecosystem, pushing it into a new state of existence.

This will seriously impact global weather patterns, especially in our Northern hemisphere. One researcher warned, “What happens in the arctic does not stay in the arctic.”

Other studies note that feedback loops, like melting permafrost (twelve times faster than thought), are increasing the speed and intensity of warming, and that the latest climate models show that former ‘worst case’ scenarios may, in fact, prove to be the norm.

These reports each contained enough important news on causes, effects, and necessary actions to provide daily news stories for weeks.

Actual media coverage lasted one or two days for the Canadian story, while the other stories received essentially no coverage.

These studies were all released as eastern Canada was enduring the second ‘once-in-a-generation’ flood in two years. A responsible media could have informed the public of the connection between these stories and events.

Instead, week after week, media climate news consisted solely of variations of the PC party’s political narrative, that a modest price on carbon pollution was somehow an assault on our freedom.

This ‘debate’, consisting almost entirely of conjecture, crowded out the factual context of the climate crisis. One would think that carbon pricing, rather than a climate crisis, was threatening our world.

Another missing story was that new audits of the emission targets of the Paris climate treaty reaffirmed that “any production from new oil and gas fields, beyond those already in production or development,” will take us beyond safe limits.

This means that exploiting new tarsands or shale gas will render our other climate plans meaningless.

Perhaps, not knowing this explains how Premier Higgs, pundits, publishers, and economists can express concerns for flood victims in one breath, while in the next breath promote new fossil fuel projects whose development will help to ensure a growing supply of future flood victims.

If they had good climate information, politicians might be aware that raising roads won’t help us, unless we do something to keep future floodwaters from rising even higher.

The media’s failure to provide context has consequences.

The effort necessary to slow climate change is often compared to fighting World War II. It will require universal consensus that recognizes the vastness of the problem, the substantial work required, and that some sacrifices may be needed, but also that the task is necessary, we can do it, and that any hardships are justified by guaranteeing a liveable future for ourselves and our children.

The climate crisis is the definitive ‘we are all in this together’ issue.

The press has made getting this necessary consensus much harder. The outrage fostered by its focus on the politics of carbon pricing, was not balanced by sober reasoning about limiting fossil fuels.

Angry people, whipped into a divisive frenzy by a one-sided argument, are not easily drawn back together.

In one of the least reported parts of the Appeals Court carbon pricing decision, the five justices unanimously agreed that, “climate change has emerged as a major threat, not just to Canada, but to the planet itself.”

We all need to be privy to the same proof that convinced the Court of that conclusion. Providing it should be the daily job of the press.

Otherwise, the press simply becomes the enabler of ignorance. And as Mother Nature keeps reminding us, “what we don’t know can hurt us.”

 © 2018 NBEN / RENB