June 2021’s heat dome set heat records across B.C. and killed nearly 750 people — after facing Canada’s deadliest weather event, British Columbians are more anxious about climate change than ever before.
A new study conducted by researchers with the Mental Health and Climate Change Alliance has found average levels of climate anxiety increased by approximately 13 per cent among British Columbians after the heat dome. Over half of the respondents reported they were much more or somewhat more worried about climate change and how it will affect their future.
The study collected responses from over 850 people over the age of 16.
“Our research explores an important link between two of the most pressing public health emergencies of the 21st century: mental health and climate change. In doing so, our work sends a clear message: that planetary health and personal health are one in the same,” said MHCCA director and assistant professor in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences Kiffer Card.
Research for the study began in May 2021. Prior to the heat dome, 17.5 per cent of respondents said it was “very likely” their region would be devastated by climate change. That number jumped to 29.8 per cent in the months that followed.
Similarly, the number of people who felt that the industry they worked in would be affected by climate change increased from 35 per cent prior to the heat dome to 40.3 per cent after the heat dome.
The study concluded in July and was not able to measure the impact of November’s catastrophic landslides and flooding that caused heavy damage to many communities and major highways in B.C.
Card said the Alliance will continue to monitor British Columbians’ levels of climate anxiety over time. The researchers say their study is among the first to use a validated climate change anxiety measurement tool to explore the impacts of extreme heat on mental health in Canada, providing new insights that can advance emerging research in the field.
The researchers hope their work can expand across Canada, but say a lack of federal resources is a barrier to their studies.
“Our results can be used to complement other national or global studies and inform larger, more comprehensive research efforts, such as developing mental health monitoring systems to inform relevant decision making and policy development.”