Air pollution and climate change have myriad health, social, economic, and environmental impacts.

Human health impacts of Air Pollution

  • Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone (O3) can affect human respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The young, the elderly and those with acute illnesses are at greater risk of such effects. PM2.5 and ground-level O3 have been associated with hospitalizations, increased respiratory and cardiovascular mortality, asthma exacerbation, decreased lung function, lung inflammation and changes in heart rate variability.[1] In 2009, 8.1% of Canadians 12 years and older had been diagnosed with asthma by a health professional. This rate did not significantly change from 2001 to 2009.[2]
  • Impacts range from minor breathing problems to premature death. The more common effects include changes in breathing and lung function, lung inflammation, and irritation and aggravation of existing heart and lung conditions (e.g. asthma, emphysema and heart disease).[1]  There is no safe level for PM2.5 and O3 that does not pose risks to human health.
  • Negative health effects increase as the concentrations of pollutants in the air increases. Even modest increases in concentration (e.g. PM2.5 and O3) can cause small but measurable increases in emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and premature death.[1],[3]

Environmental Impacts

  • Ground-level ozone damagesvegetation, including crops, flowers, shrubs and forests, by interfering with plants’ ability to produce and store food. This damage makes them more susceptible to disease, pests and environmental stresses.[4]
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) can become acidic gases or particulates, and cause or accelerate the corrosion and soiling of materials.  Together with ammonia, they are also the main precursors of acid rain. Acid rain affects soils and water bodies, and stresses both vegetation and animals.[5]

Economic impacts

  • The health effects from PM2.5 and ground-level ozone can reduce work attendance and overall participation in the labour force. In terms of increased health care costs, missed days of work, and reduced worker productivity, air pollution costs Canadians and the Canadian economy billions of dollars per year.[6]
  • Increased ozone levels also reduce the growth of crops, plants and trees, leading to economic losses in agriculture and forestry. For example, the impacts of ozone on agriculture are known to cost Canadian farmers millions of dollars in lost production each year.[7]

Source: Environment Canada

Climate Change Impacts In British Columbia

Evidence shows that our climate has changed over the past century, affecting both physical and biological systems.

  • Average annual temperatures have warmed by between 0.5-1.7 degrees Celsius in different regions of the province during the 20th century. In fact, parts of British Columbia have been warming at a rate more than twice the global average.
  • Over the last 50 – 100 years, B.C. has lost up to 50 per cent of its snow pack, and total annual precipitation has increased by about 20 per cent.
  • Faster melts and increased precipitation have resulted in floods in the Fraser Valley, Interior and throughout British Columbia.
  • Warmer winters have resulted in the mountain pine beetle  epidemic, which has destroyed an area of pine forest equivalent to four times the size of Vancouver Island.
  • The pine beetle has infested 13 million hectares of B.C.’s forests. By 2013, it is predicted that 80% of BC’s pine forest will be “red and dead”.
  • Communities have been experiencing longer summer droughts as weather patterns grow increasingly erratic.
  • Sea levels are expected to rise up to 30 cm on the north coast of British Columbia and up to 50 cm on the north Yukon coast by 2050.
  • Glacier reduction could affect the flow of rivers, impacting tourism, hydroelectric power, and fish habitat.

An analysis of historical data also indicates changes in freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems that are linked to climate:

  • Lakes and rivers are now free of ice earlier in the spring
  • At least two large glaciers in southern B.C. have retreated by over a kilometre each.
  • The Fraser River discharges most of its total annual flow sooner in the year.
  • Sea levels rose by 4 to 12 cm along most of the coast, with high-water sea levels in the Vancouver area up 16-34 cm over the past century.

Current projections indicate that B.C. could experience a further warming of 0.9-1.8 degrees Celsius by 2080.
This climate change will affect water, fish, forests, range and other natural resources, along with the communities and ecosystems that depend on them. Assessment work at the national level has identified some likely B.C. impacts:

  • Many areas will experience growing water shortages and increased competition among water uses, including municipalities, irrigation, industry, power generation, fisheries, recreation and aquatic ecosystems.
  • The greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and related hazards, such as flooding and forest fires, will threaten key infrastructure (e.g., roads, ports) affecting BC communities and people’s health and well-being.
  • The mountain pine beetle could expand its range to the north and east, with economic and environmental consequences for the forest industry, communities and ecosystems.
  • While agriculture may enjoy longer, warmer growing seasons, more frequent and prolonged droughts as well as increased pest infestations could erode any benefit from climate change.
  • Already stressed fisheries will face further challenges, in particular the highly important Pacific salmon species, which are sensitive to stream and ocean surface warming.

Source: LiveSmartBC