Feeling the Heat

As the temperature hit 41° C (with the humidex) on Sunday, I found myself thinking of CBU poli-sci Prof Tom Urbaniak’s recent Post opinion piece about our municipality’s woefully inadequate preparations for extreme heat:

Severe, extended heat waves were previously rare around here. But our changing climate is changing our lives. We can expect some dangerously hot days – or weeks – almost every year.

We are not ready.

And we are vulnerable. Demographically, we have an older population. A high proportion of our residents live in poverty, including many very young children, who are also at heightened risk. Most of our residents live in urban neighbourhoods that were never designed with cooling or shade in mind. We have relatively few public amenities. The majority of homes do not have air conditioning.

CBRM retweets Environment Canada heat tips

Urbaniak took the CBRM to task for simply posting Environment Canada’s tips for beating the heat to its social media feeds and then, in response to the question “Are there going to be cooling centres for those who may not be able to afford air conditioning or the homeless?” replying:

The homeless shelter in Sydney on Townsend St. is air-conditioned and should the need arise they can expand into their extreme weather centre to accommodate more persons who require assistance. The Ally Centre is located in a new fully air-conditioned location and providing support to their clients, including a cool space and travel support. Their hours of operation are as follows: Weekdays 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, and 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Weekends 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Urbaniak, after noting that some of CBRM’s public buildings are without air conditioning (and were not open on Sunday, the worst day of the heatwave) said:

Conditions for anyone living in a multi-unit building, especially above the ground floor, can be especially dangerous. Those folks would not immediately think of going to the homeless shelter or the Ally Centre. Also, the CBRM suggested no option outside Sydney.

His conclusion, unsurprisingly, was that we have to do better. He even provided some suggestions, like cooling centres, a system for checking on the elderly, water-based recreational options like splash pads and swimming pools for all communities and more shade trees.


Action Plan?

These suggestions reminded me that, as a community, we’ve supposedly been preparing for the effects of climate change since at least 2014 when we adopted our Municipal Climate Change Action Policy (MCCAP).

This document was updated by council in 2020 and I had actually forgotten (wiped from memory?) District 7 Councilor Ivan Doncaster’s contribution to the proceedings which consisted largely of asking questions like this:

[W]hat is climate change?…Well, explain it…in layman’s terms. Everybody here just hears the word they want…an explanation, ‘What is climate change?’ Scientists say there’s not such a thing as climate change.”

The municipal report card on climate change preparation revolved around our success in reducing our energy consumption,  “largely by retrofitting buildings with LED lighting and converting streetlights to LED.” But as Scott Sharplin of Extinction Rebellion (who also took a stab at explaining climate change to Councilor Doncaster) noted:

Changing those light bulbs is a great start but it’s not going to save us.


4 Days in the ’30s

I went back to the MCCAP to see what it had had to say about rising temperatures and I discovered a section entitled “Increased Annual Temperatures,” which begins with this table containing predictions from 2011:

Forecast of Rising Temperatures CBRM

Note that it predicts 4 days of above 30°C weather by the 2020s then take a look at this recent Environment Canada tweet:

But the list of “potential hazards” related to rising temperatures in the MCCAP doesn’t include threats to human health, it focuses on forest fires, drought, reduced agricultural production, species loss, loss of sea ice, erosion, invasive species and algae blooms. (It also lists some potential upsides, including longer growing, shipping and tourism seasons and the possibility of growing grapes.)

I honestly think heat emergencies just weren’t on the authors’ radar, their vision of an “emergency situation” was a “storm event” that could “cause the closure of the Canso Causeway for an extended period, potentially causing difficulty in transporting food and fuel to Cape Breton Island.”

Their recommendations for “emergency preparedness” looked like this:

Steps for Emergency Preparedness, CBRM

To its credit, the CBRM has used community fire departments as “comfort centres” following power failures. I know this because when I googled “cooling centres” on the municipal website, I turned up this September 2019 notice about comfort centres opening for residents who’d lost power.

Why they weren’t deployed as cooling centres during the recent heatwave is an open question.



On August 5, two days after Urbaniak’s column appeared, Mayor Amanda McDougall announced the municipal Emergency Measures Office (EMO) was:

…working diligently to prepare supports as we enter into several days of above average heat.

Cooling spaces will be activated where required and a list of spaces that meet EMO requirements is ready to activate.

As I write, it’s August 10 and that list of spaces has yet to be made public, although, as noted already, the worst day of the heatwave was Sunday, August 7.

CBRM spokesperson Christina Lamey  told the Post that:

…one factor that would trigger opening cooling stations would be a power outage which would cut air conditioners to a large number of homes.

But does that really make sense in a municipality where most people don’t have air conditioning? According to this CBS piece about a heatwave in Boston, the connection between heatwaves and power failures is that too many people turning their air conditioners on at once overloads the electrical system. That’s surely less likely to happen in a municipality where most people don’t have air conditioning.

True, as more people get air conditioners, the risk of power failures will rise, and we should be educating residents about this, but right now, waiting for a power failure to trigger the opening of cooling centers in CBRM sounds like a bad idea. And yes, I realize Lamey said this was “one” factor they will consider, but as it was the only one she mentioned, I have to think it’s rather key.  I’ve asked her what other factors would be considered—I’ve also asked for a list of cooling centres—but as of publication, I had not received a response.

I can only second Professor Urbaniak’s conclusion: we really have to do better.