Karen Lukic, Health Promotion Specialist
February 20, 2020
The WECHU Taking Action on Climate Change
Climate change is a long-term shift in weather conditions. It can impact average temperatures, precipitation, wind, and other indicators. It is also linked to more frequent, extreme weather events such as storms that produce torrential rain and tornadoes. Windsor and Essex County (WEC) have experienced the impacts of climate change in recent years, such as record levels of precipitation which have led to widespread flooding events. There have also been periods of extended heat and the annual blue-green algae bloom in our lakes. These changes have also created ideal conditions for the survival of invasive mosquito species and a greater presence of insects that carry diseases not historically found in our region. WEC is the first region in Canada to identify adult Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, and have had evidence of the presence of Aedes albopictus mosquitoes since 2016. Both of these mosquitoes are vectors for viruses not normally seen in Canada, such as Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya. These climate impacts are expected to persist and worsen as a result of past and present-day emissions (Government of Canada, 2017).
It has become necessary to take action on climate change globally and locally. These actions can have positive impacts on both the environment, and on the health and well-being of WEC residents. Initiatives and policies needed to address climate change can also help to protect human health, reduce health care costs, and improve health equity within our community. Examples include investments to protect current infrastructure from climate-related disasters, and implementing changes to building codes to increase the resiliency of buildings (Government of Canada, 2017). Changes can also be made to reduce the amount of energy we use, and the amount of waste that we generate to reduce our carbon foot print both at an individual and organizational level.
The WECHU has taken a number of actions to address, manage, and respond to the effects of a changing climate. On November 21, 2019 the Windsor-Essex County Board of Health passed a Local Response to Climate Change Resolution that supports ongoing advocacy efforts and public health interventions to support climate change action locally. These initiatives and programs, implemented in collaboration with key community partners, will support municipalities, local organizations, and individuals to take action and raise awareness levels about the health impacts of climate change.
The WECHU has also conducted a Climate Change and Health Vulnerability Assessment which will be used to identify and understand the impacts that a changing climate will have on the health of the WEC population, and identify those populations most vulnerable to negative health effects. Data from this assessment will be used to develop action plans for the various health impacts affecting our region.
In addition to these broader initiatives, internally, the Health Unit has implemented several changes in recent years to reduce our organization’s environmental impact. Examples include:
- Creation and implementation of policies that reduce the number of vehicles on the road (e.g. staff carpooling, the use of web conferencing technology)
- Reduction of energy consumption through conversion of office lighting to LED, and the use of power-saving modes for office equipment
- Reduction of single-use plastics, and supporting staff to drink more water and less sugar sweetened beverages through the installation of water bottle filling stations within our buildings and removal of beverage vending machines
- Reduction in office waste by providing ample resources for staff to recycle paper, plastics, glass, and batteries
- Installation of bike racks at each of the 3 Health Unit offices to encourage active transportation
Looking ahead, the organization will continue to consider its environmental impacts and updates that can be made to our policies, procedures and programs with our new workspace to reflect our organizational commitment. Examples include:
- Implementation of environmentally friendly purchasing policies that encourage buying local, recyclable goods, reducing waste from food/single-use plastics and put an emphasis on reducing the organizations carbon footprint
- A building design that conserves energy and water (e.g. LED lighting, use of natural lighting, solar panels, light sensors, power save features on office equipment, low flow toilets and faucets)
- Allowing for natural, green spaces where possible in the design and incorporating building infrastructure that support staff and client active transportation such as biking and walking
Therese Marentette, CEO
Government of Canada (2017) Adapting to the effects of climate change. Retrieved on January 13, 2020. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/weather/climatechange/climate-action/adapting-to-effects.html