BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau says the province is in a “reactive place” when it comes to responding to climate change issues.
As B.C. sees its first heat wave of the season, with temperatures in some areas to be 10 C to 15 C above seasonal averages, Furstenau called on the government to implement recommendations from the report into the deadly 2021 heat dome from the BC Coroners Service released last year.
“We’re staring down a summer of more wildfires, potential extreme heat,” she said during Question Perion Thursday (May 11).
She asked Premier David Eby where people can go, and how the elderly and people with disabilities can be expected to move during a heat wave.
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said it’s “top of mind, considering we are seeing warmer temperatures.” He said he’s met with doctors about how to help the most vulnerable, including short-term solutions, such as distribution of cooling supplies, like fans and air conditioning units.
Health Minister Adrian Dix noted B.C. launched the BC Heat Alert and Response System in June 2022, which sent out six alerts last year. He told reporters afterward that B.C. may see “less urgent heat alerts” issued in some communities this weekend.
But Furstenau continued, saying it’s been two years since the heat dome.
“We all know a heat wave is coming – 619 people died in the 2021 heat dome. Last year the chief coroner recommended giving air conditioners to the most vulnerable: the elderly, those with disabilities, those who can’t move with ease.”
Furstenau said the deadline has been missed.
Released just shy of a year of the deadly heat dome, “Extreme Heat and Human Mortality,” found that 67 per cent of people who died were aged 70 or older, 90 per cent were 60 or older and none were younger than 30. More than half lived alone and the vast majority of people who died were found without air conditioning (93 per cent) or fans (76 per cent).
The review set out a number of target dates for the province to address the disproportionate impact heat events have on vulnerable populations, including that by December 2022 conducting a review into issuing cooling devices as medical equipment to people most at risk of dying. It is also expected to consult directly with vulnerable populations by June 2023.
During a media briefing Thursday B.C. Centre for Disease Control scientific director Sarah Henderson was asked about the need for air conditioners.
“As someone who has been studying the impacts of extreme heat in British Columbia for many years now, we are in a much better place than we were in the summer of 2021,” she explained, pointing to province’s alert system and the extreme heat preparedness guide.
”We are in a far better position. Are we exactly where I would like us to be and where others in the province would like us to be? No, but we are pushing quickly in that direction.”
She acknowledged preparation, planning and policy takes time, but the province is “working to get to an even better place.”
But it’s a multi-faceted question, she said.
“We can’t just look at air conditioners as the solution. We need to think of how we’re building, the surrounding built environment, the available greenspace, the available protection from tree canopy and mechanical cooling when necessary.”