Waterloo Region is one of many in Ontario that suffered through a heat dome last summer. As reported by climate data in our region, the maximum temperature from July and August peaked at 26°C. According to researchers from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaption (ICCA) at the University of Waterloo, this prolonged period of extreme heat is something that will become more regular in the next few years.
A heat dome is a mountain of warm air built into a jet stream. When the jet stream, which is a band of strong wind in the upper levels of the atmosphere, becomes wavy and elongated pressure systems can become stalled in places they would not typically be. Extreme heat is characterized by the temperature and humidity rising above what is considered normal for an area.
“Generally speaking, the heat dome produces an effect of about an increase of three to five degrees Celsius above maximum daily temperatures currently being realised. That’s where we’re heading over the next, starting in about 2050,” Blair Feltmate, head of the ICCA, said.
Extreme weather events like heat domes can be potentially lethal and affect everyone. However, there are three groups that experience increased effects: people over 70 years of age, unhoused people and people with pre-existing health conditions.
“More than 500 people died during a heat dome that came over part of British Colombia. The best course of action is to prepare for extreme heart being a part of our future,” Feltmate, said.
Feltmate said there should be better systems in place to check on these three most vulnerable groups when extreme heat events occur. He also said that there should be an amber alert sent to everyone whenever there is an extreme temperature event so that people can prepare themselves and check on their neighbours.
“We need heat alert systems to go out almost like an Amber Alert, only it’s a heat alert that should be set up in in every province, where people are given in very stark terms notification that heat is coming and be prepared or put your we need to put in motion the system to protect these people,” he said.
Indigenous people are also disproportionately affected by climate change. Rowland Keshna Robinson, an instructor at the University of Waterloo and coordinator of Indigenous Studies at St. Paul’s University College, studied Indigenous climate justice extensively for much of his adult life and time in Canada. Robinson is from the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin.
“Indigenous people often had a profoundly different way of relating to the non-human world in ways that see the world as something that in and of itself has intrinsic value to it instead of this sort of Instrumental or Utilitarian sort of value to humans and only humans,” Robinson said.
According to Debrorah McGregor’s, “An Indigenous people’s approach to climate justice”, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Indigenous peoples are responsible for protecting 22 per cent of the planet’s surface and 80 per cent of biodiversity. It is always important to keep Indigenous voices in mind when talking about climate justice.
Exclusion remains the norm when it comes to climate activism. Although there has been recognition by the UN to Indigenous peoples’ contributions towards climate justice, Indigenous people are still sidelined by international plans of action.
“I’ve known a lot of people in the past, worked with Indigenous communities in Louisiana, in the United States are actually becoming some of the world’s first real climate refugees in that their communities are right on the Gulf Coast,” Robinson said.
In Canada alone, there have been three hot spots particularly impacted by extreme heat are the west coast of British Columbia, prairie regions and the northern shore of Lake Erie.
These areas have consistently seen summer days that are over 30°C, and have had longer heat waves than the rest of the country.
For the next 30 years, there will be an increased number of 30-degree days. The number of hot days per summer will double in Canada.
Although there have been no deaths in Ontario, there have been many who have been negatively impacted. Waterloo Region’s housing crisis has left many without a home, and there were many unhoused people on the streets that suffered through the heat dome without shelter.
“To a large extent Canada has only started to focus on adapting to climate change and extreme weather risk in any serious way in the last two or three years,” Feltman said.
The heat dome that settled over the country is indicative of how much Canada needs to fund more renewable energy and becomes more active in reducing greenhouse emissions. It has outlined what many Indigenous climate activists have said for years: access to climate-controlled environments is a human right. Climate change is here, and we as a society have to adapt, and make changes that benefit all of us and not just a select few.