Canadian Study: Coming Heat Waves Will Be Deadly

May 29, 2022


Canada is also feeling the effects of extreme heat: in British Columbia last summer, 595 people died from the heat. The village of Lytton, B.C., set a new Canadian heat record (49.6 C) on June 29, before it was razed by a wildfire the next day. The same “heat dome” left the ground parched, contributing to catastrophic flooding in B.C. months later.

Feltmate is one of the authors of a recent report warning of a “potentially lethal future” for Canadians in terms of heat, especially those living in B.C.’s southern interior, along the U.S. border in the Prairies and in southern Ontario and Quebec.

“We’re going to see extreme heat events that will make what we saw in British Columbia last year during the heat dome look relatively mild,” Feltmate said.

When you’re exposed to prolonged heat, you may feel sluggish because your organs are working harder to keep you cool — and alive. 

Your heart beats harder to push blood to your skin, where it can cool down. Sweating is also essential for cooling your body, but it gets harder as humidity increases.

In extreme cases of heat stroke, your body essentially begins to cook, breaking down cells and causing organ damage.

“It is very much like cooking an egg,” said Professor Stephen Cheung, an expert in environmental stress on human physiology at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. 

“The reason it goes from a liquid to solid white mass is because the proteins have changed … If your body just continues heating up and isn’t able to control its temperature, eventually your proteins are going to be doing the same thing in your cells.”

Sitting in the shade and drinking water isn’t enough when you’re already suffering heat stroke. “It is critical to cool [an overheating person] down as rapidly as possible, ideally by immersing them in as cold water as possible,” Cheung said.

Being too hot at bedtime also makes it hard for us to sleep, which can lead to poor decision-making and injuries, and have a detrimental impact on people’s mental health, says Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health.

What is most often ignored in stories like this, is, how will the other creatures we share the planet with adapt to heat events like these?

National Geographic:

As the Pacific Northwest baked in 115 degree heat last month, fuzzy baby hawks sat sweltering in their nests, 50 feet off the ground. Unable to fly, the young raptors dealt with the heat in the only way they could: One by one, they threw themselves out. 

Nearly 50 baby Cooper’s and Swainson’s hawks were rescued from the ground beneath towering pines in Washington and Oregon and brought to Blue Mountain Wildlife, a rehabilitation organization in Pendleton, Oregon, which specializes in treating birds of prey. More still were brought to Portland Audubon and other rehabilitation facilities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The historic heat wave coincided with nesting season, says Lynn Tompkins, director of Blue Mountain Wildlife. If the young birds had been able to fly, they could have sought reprieve in a cooler spot. If they’d had feathers, they’d have been able to regulate their body temperatures. “But these guys were just downy babies,” she says, “and there was nothing to do but bail out.” 

The hawk nosedives are one dramatic example of the many ways wild animals have been affected by extreme heat in the West. Marine life, including mussels and sea stars, have died en masse from exposure to unusually hot air. One estimate puts the death toll at more than a billion. Other effects aren’t yet clear. In some cases, human development prevents animals from being able to flee to cooler areas. Other animals are likely to take new risks by venturing places they normally wouldn’t, in search of shade or water. 

As extreme heat events become more frequent and median temperatures rise, experts are concerned about animals’ ability to survive and adapt.


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