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University of Alberta scientist Sherilee Harper and her colleagues have created Canada’s first university hub to focus on the health impacts of climate change. They aim to shift the view of climate change from solely an environmental issue to a threat to human health. By emphasizing the health implications of climate change decisions, they hope to inspire more action and address the urgent health risks associated with increasing temperatures in Canada, which is warming at twice the global average.

Climate change is already causing a range of health problems in Canada, including deteriorating air quality due to wildfire smoke, the spread of vector-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and West Nile virus, and an increase in waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea. There are also mental health impacts, with acute stress experienced by those affected by wildfires and a sense of loss and grief as familiar environments change. The interplay between physical and mental health effects exacerbates the overall impact on individuals and communities.

Internationally, the World Health Organization estimates that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress between 2030 and 2050. The Climate Change and Health Hub led by Harper will address these global threats by bringing together scientists, First Nations knowledge keepers, and students to share ideas and research. The hub will focus on interdisciplinary work and public outreach to mobilize evidence-informed advocacy and support decision-making based on scientific evidence.

The hub aims to fill a gap in Canada’s climate change research community by connecting researchers across disciplines and facilitating collaboration on this complex and far-reaching issue. By framing climate change as a health problem, Harper and her colleagues hope to inspire action and raise awareness about the urgent health risks associated with climate change. The hub will also support public outreach and advocacy efforts, providing evidence to policymakers to inform decision-making based on the latest research and data.

The impacts of climate change are not limited to physical health, with mental health consequences also emerging as a significant concern. The hub will address the interconnected nature of physical and mental health impacts, recognizing that the effects can compound each other and increase the overall burden on individuals and communities. By bringing together researchers, knowledge keepers, and students, the hub aims to foster collaboration and cross-disciplinary approaches to address the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change on human health.

Through the Climate Change and Health Hub, Harper and her colleagues are working to raise awareness about the health impacts of climate change and advocate for evidence-informed decision-making to address the urgent health risks associated with rising temperatures and environmental changes. By emphasizing the interconnected nature of climate change and human health, the hub aims to inspire action and support efforts to mitigate the health consequences of climate change both in Canada and globally.

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