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Experts warn against becoming an "air-conditioned society" as heat waves heat up

Article author:

The Canadian Press

Canadian news agency

Brenna Owen

Hundreds of people died last summer during the historic heat wave of British Columbia, reaching high temperatures in their thirties. He died in a house that was not suitable for the sudden rise in temperature. Beyond a few days, this month, B.C. A report by the coroner service was found.

It was hot outside, but hotter inside, with tragic consequences.

Of the 619 heat-related deaths, 98% occurred indoors, a review from coroner services shows.

Only 1% of the victims had an air conditioner that was on at the time.

But experts say that a year later, with residents, the main solution to the risk that climate change will contribute to heat waves and scientists will get hotter and hotter. Policy makers warn that they need to think beyond air conditioning. frequent.

"What I'm worried about is talking about mechanical ventilation as this comprehensive measure for all buildings. If that's the final thing, it's very It's a problem, "said Adam Rysanek, an assistant professor of environmental systems. At the Faculty of Architecture, University of British Columbia.

"We will be completely accustomed to this air-conditioned society," said Lizanek, director of the University's Architectural Decision Research Group.

Bright surfaces reflect more of the sun's energy, so another answer is how buildings and cities are designed, landscaped, and even colored. You can find it.

Two-thirds of the people who died in the heat of the summer last summer were over 70 years old, more than half lived alone, and many suffered from chronic illness.

Ryansek said it was important to give such vulnerable people access to air conditioning when temperatures were dangerously high.

However, he said that many causes of overheating in buildings are due to design and performance, and focusing on air conditioning ignores proven solutions.

He said city planners and the construction industry need to use brightly colored materials for buildings and paved roads, in addition to adding shades to the exterior walls of buildings. Told.

"At peak heat, most of the cooling demand comes from the solar energy received outside the building. Let's reflect that."

Coroner Jury Alex Boston found "fundamental vulnerabilities" to dangerous heat in British Columbia and across the country as a result of demographic changes and how homes and communities were built. He said it was growing.

The number of people over the age of 65 and those living alone is increasing, and both of these characteristics exacerbate the risk during extreme heat, the Simon Fraser University Renewable City Program. Said Boston, Executive Director of.

"In addition, it is one elderly person who suffers from a chronic illness, and it is the elderly person who has some form of material or social deprivation," he says. I did.

"It may be income, it may be the nature of their home and the neighborhood in which they live may have inadequate canopies. These factors Are all together and many of them need to be tackled at the same time. "

If you can't make sure the building is surrounded by trees to provide shade and evaporative cooling," in the future In terms of the energy load and cooling demands of the building, we will step in, "says Ryansek. It requires "very robust" requirements for vegetation and landscaping to mitigate extreme heat.

Metro Vancouver aims to increase the city canopy to 40% by 2050. This has increased from an average of 32% across the region, but the 2019 report states that existing canopies are declining due to urban development. Specifically, the city of Vancouver's goal is to increase the canopy from 18% to 22%.

Boston said there are significant co-benefits in many measures to improve thermal elasticity, such as the restoration of urban canopies.

Trees and vegetation help reduce the risk of flooding, and nearby parks act as social hubs that can alleviate social isolation and foster a sense of community.

“There are complex issues, and looking at just one isolated component cannot maximize the benefits of solving these issues in an integrated manner,” says Boston.

For example, a Boston organization is working on a project on the North Shore of Vancouver to see how social service providers can help older singles manage their secondary suites at home. I am. From living alone in the extreme heat.

"We have to do a multi-solve," Boston said.

On the other hand, B.C. 2020 surveys and reports from hydropower and power authorities show that the use of residential air conditioners has more than tripled since 2001.

Many residents added an average of $ 200. Almost one-third of survey respondents set temperatures below 19 ° C, resulting in inefficient use of air conditioning units. Summer invoice by doing. Popular portable units use 10 times more energy than central air conditioning systems or heat pumps.

Globally, the International Energy Agency predicted in 2018 that energy demand from air conditioning would triple by 2050.

Continuing this path will make it difficult for governments to reach and mitigate greenhouse gas reduction targets. Climate change, Lisa Neck said.

"Exacerbating this problem, the cost of building development is a reduction in the bucket in terms of the climate impact it faces," he said.

B.C. The government needs to encourage non-mechanical cooling options to promote adoption in residential and commercial buildings, he said, built into natural ventilation, ceiling fans, floors and ceilings. He pointed out measures such as radiant cooling. Air conditioner.

"We need to encourage policy makers to understand that there is a big world of choice. British Columbia may not have a supplier yet, It's a great opportunity for business, "says Lizanek.

Companies around the world are deploying these cooling alternatives in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, "inviting them here to learn these things as the general public and as consumers. need to do it". He said.

The coroner's report is calling for BC. Make sure that the Building Standards Act of 2024 incorporates passive and active cooling requirements for new homes and cooling standards for remodeling existing homes, and that it will be included in the regional growth strategy and formal community planning. Make sure that the "Climate Change Lens" is adopted.

It is also recommended that the state consider how to issue a cooling device as a medical device with the highest risk of dying from extreme heat.

Public Security Minister Mike Fernworth said the government would review the report and "take necessary steps to prevent heat-related deaths in the future."

It is difficult to predict the frequency in BC. Rachel White, an assistant professor at the Department of Global and Oceanic Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia, said last summer's highs could repeat, but climate change has increased the frequency and magnitude of extreme heat. No doubt, he said.

"In the future, when a normal heat wave occurs, it will be hotter than before," she said.

A heat dome is a region of high pressure that settles in place as the temperature drops, White explained.

She said these areas can be "quasi-steady" depending on factors such as the strength of the winds that circulate high in the atmosphere.

Last year, as the heat dome covered BC, its effects were amplified by already drought soil, evaporating on long sunny summer days to help cool the land. She said it was in short supply.

White warned that the Earth's "atmosphere is not in equilibrium." "And the longer we continue to emit these greenhouse gases, the warmer we will be."

"If you don't want to be scary in 40 or 50 years, We need to act now. ”

This report by Canadian Press was first published on June 25, 2022.