Some workers risk their jobs if they flee disasters. Can unions help?

bicycle in floodingWith the well-accepted consensus that climate change will make extreme weather disasters more likely in Canada and around the world, and with the misery of Hurricane Florence in full view, it is time to consider the dilemma of those who must work despite evacuation orders and disaster.  A recent AFL-CIO blog (reposted to Portside) summarizes the problem:  “You can be fired for not showing up for work during a hurricane” (Sept. 13) . The blog relates the results of a survey conducted by Central Florida Jobs With Justice following Hurricane Irma in 2017, which found that more than half of survey respondents said they faced disciplinary action or termination if they failed to show up to work during the storm. Others weren’t paid if they if they didn’t report for work – making it an impossible choice between a normal, much-needed paycheque, or tending to their own and their family’s safety.  Following Hurricane Irma, a few employers instituted climate leave policies, and in June 2018,  the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance  prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who comply with evacuation orders during a state of emergency. But for most workers, evacuation is not an option. waffle house

A similar situation was reported in the latest newsletter from  Labor Network for Sustainability . The Central Labor Council in Miami conducted a survey and interviews, canvassing labor leaders and coalition partners from AFSCME Florida, IUOE and South Florida Building Trades, Unite HERE, United Teachers of Dade, and the Miami Climate Alliance of community, and environmental groups, to find out their concerns about climate change and health.   Answers reflected the difficulties of working in extreme heat in a surprising number of ways, and also asked the question: “Have extreme weather events like hurricanes, flooding, or high heat impacted your job on a day to day basis?”. Recurring responses included:  “Being required to work during a hurricane or bad weather” , and concerns for job security and losing wages, because of a  workplace being closed.  Other concerns: unsafe workplaces, being required to work excess hours without allowance for caring for one’s own home, and “Not having access to clean, safe drinking water.”

Similar concerns were reported in a December 2017 report  of a survey about the impacts of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, highlighted  in the WCR article “What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?”  In that summary, we also featured the impacts on families after the wildfires near Fort McMurray in Alberta in 2016.  In the case of Alberta,  amendments to the  Alberta Employment Standards Code took effect in January 2018, providing new Personal and Family Responsibility Leave of up to 5 days of job protection per year for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member, including attending to personal emergencies.

Until legislation makes such personal leaves universal,  consider the job and wage protection in the 2014-2019 Collective Agreement  between Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3886 and Royal Roads University in Victoria B.C..

Article 31.8 states:

“a) Should the University, or an area of the University, be closed temporarily due to environmental conditions, utility disruptions, road conditions or other reasons beyond the control of the University, employees shall receive their regular salary (excluding shift differential and weekend premium) during the closure. The University may layoff employees in accordance with the terms of Article 16 if the closure is expected to be for greater than twenty (20)working days.

b) If an employee is called in to work during a temporary closure of the University they will be paid at Overtime rates as per Article 18.02. “

Suicide and heat waves: the mental health effects related to climate change

thermometer and sunHigher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico”  was published in Nature Climate Change online on July 23, warning that up to 26,000 more people could die by suicide in the United States by 2050 if humans don’t reduce emissions of greenhouse gas pollution. The study has been widely reported and summarized: for example, in The Atlantic (July 23).  The authors used new statistical techniques, including analysis which correlates social media posts about depression with temperature conditions. Part of this social media analysis is based on the work of Patrick Baylis of the University of British Columbia, whose academic paper “Temperature and Temperament: Evidence from a Billion Tweets” was published by the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, in November 2015.

A second article published in July 2018 is  “Associations between high ambient temperatures and heat waves with mental health outcomes: a systematic review”  appeared in the British journal  Public Health. It  reports on a literature review of 35 studies, and the authors conclude that: “High ambient temperatures have a range of mental health effects. The strongest evidence was found for increased suicide risk. Limited evidence was found for an increase in heat-related morbidity and mortality among people with known mental health problems. …. Mental health impacts should be incorporated into plans for the public health response to high temperatures, and as evidence evolves, psychological morbidity and mortality temperature thresholds should be incorporated into hot weather–warning systems.”

A 2014 article examined weekly suicide death totals and anomalies in Toronto between 1986–2009 and Jackson, Mississippi, from 1980–2006. The authors found that for both cities, warmer weeks had an increased likelihood of being associated with high-end suicide totals.  “Association of Weekly Suicide Rates with Temperature Anomalies in Two Different Climate Types” from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is here .

The  growing literature about the impacts of climate change on mental health has been summarized in an article in Forbes magazine, “Weather And The Warm Season Are Among Factors Associated With Suicide” (June 2018) and in the  April 2018 issue of  Corporate Knights magazine. The Corporate Knights article, “Deep Impact” is by Professor Helen Berry , the inaugural Professor of Climate Change and Mental Health at the University of Sydney, in Australia.   Although her brief overview emphasizes  mental health impacts of climate-change related disasters such as floods,  it also  provides links to recent articles linking mental health with chronic climate conditions such as heat waves and drought. Some examples of Professor Berry’s research: “The importance of humidity in the relationship between heat and population mental health: Evidence from Australia” in PLoS One (2016) ; “The Effect of Extreme Heat on Mental Health – Evidence from Australia”  from the International Journal of Epidemiology (restricted access) (2015); and “Morbidity and mortality during heatwaves in Metropolitan Adelaide”  in the Medical  Journal of Australia (2007).

Professor Berry and co-author   Dominic Peel  provoked public discussion in 2015 with an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, “Worrying about climate change: is it responsible to promote public debate?

 

Recognition of the mental health impacts of flooding and wildfires in Canada – B.C. offers support

A June 2018 report from the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation  at the University of Waterloo presents statistics about the rising financial costs of weather-related disasters in Canada, and  profiles the results of 100 door-to-door interviews with households in flooded communities around Burlington Ontario. After the Flood: The Impact of Climate on Mental Health and Lost Time From Work   found that members of households which had been flooded experienced significantly more worry and stress than non-flooded households, and the worry and stress persisted even up to 3 years after the event. After the Flood also reported that 56% of flooded households had at least one working member who took time off work, and that the average time lost was seven days per flooded household (10 times greater than the average absenteeism for non-flooded workers).

The report cites official documents concerning the growing financial costs of disasters for example, the 2016 report from Canada’s Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer ,  Estimates of the Average Annual Cost for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements due to Weather Events and includes a bibliography of the growing  international public health literature concerning the health effects of weather disasters.

talk in tough times logoOther official recognition of the rising dangers of extreme weather events:  in May 2018, the Province of British Columbia, under the leadership of Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced mental health support services for those who might be impacted by re-living their experiences from the record-breaking 2017 wildfire season.   In partnership with the B.C. branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the program directs people to support services through a Facebook campaign called Talk in Tough Times, and a phone-based support program.

Federally, the  Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announced the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund in May 2018, a 10-year national program that will invest $2 billion in infrastructure projects such as diversion channels, wetland restorations, wildfire barriers and setback levees, to help communities better withstand natural hazards such as floods, wildfires, seismic events and droughts.

102 Cities globally are sourcing 70% of their energy from renewables

Recent meetings have prompted the release of several new research reports about cities, described as the “front-line of climate action” at the 10th anniversary meetings of the EU’s Covenant of Mayors in February . The biggest meeting, and first-ever Cities and Climate Change Science Conference , was co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and was held in Edmonton, Alberta in March 5 – 7. The conference commissioned five reports , and included several others, including “Six Research Priorities for Cities and Climate Change” , which appeared in Nature in February.   Detailed daily coverage of the conference was provided by the International Institute for Sustainable Development  (IISD); the closing press release is here .

In advance of the IPCC Cities conference,  CDP released The World’s Renewable Energy Cities report , with new data that shows  that 102 cities around the world are now sourcing at least 70 percent of their electricity from renewables  (more than double the 40 cities from their list in 2015).  The 102 cities  include Auckland (New Zealand); Nairobi (Kenya); Oslo (Norway); Seattle (USA) and from Canada: Montreal, Prince George ( B.C.), Winnipeg, and  Vancouver.  The full report identifies data by type  of renewable energy: hydropower, wind, solar photovoltaics, biomass and geothermal.  Related, broader reports are: Renewable Energy in Cities: State of the Movement  (Jan. 2018), which offers a global overview of local policy developments and documents  from 2017, and Renewable Energy in Cities  (October 2016) by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

All of  these reports are more encouraging than another recent study in the news:  “Future heat waves, droughts and floods in 571 European cities”, which appeared  in Environmental Research Letters in February 2018.   These are warnings we’ve read before, but this study offers unique detail: it names cities that could be expected to experience the worst flooding in the worst-case scenario – Cork and Waterford in Ireland, Santiago de Compostela in Spain – and those that could expect the worst droughts: Malaga and Almeria in Spain. Stockholm and Rome could expect the greatest increase in numbers of heatwave days, while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increases in maximum temperatures.

Some recent news about Canadian cities:

downtown CalgaryAs the IPCC Cities conference met in Edmonton, the nearby City of Calgary convened its own  Symposium  as part of the process to develop its Resilience Plan, to be presented to Council in Spring 2018.  The website provides overview information and links to documentation, including nine research briefs in a series, Building a Climate-Resilient City: Climate Change Adaptation in Calgary and Edmonton  from the Prairie Climate Resilience Centre, a project of the University of Winnipeg and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BCVancouver:  The Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver recently released two reports from a collaborative project called “Mapping Enabling Policies for Vancouver’s 100% Renewable Energy Strategy”. The Policy Atlas is a brief, graphic guide ; The Dialogue Report summarizes the views and discussion of 19 participants at a workshop held on November 30, 2017 – and attempts to clarify the roles of the federal, provincial, and local governments around issues such as a zero emission vehicles, energy efficiency in housing, land use planning, and electricfication and distributed energy, among others.

Toronto largeToronto: In February, Toronto City Council approved $2.5 million for its Transform TO climate plan  – which is  a fraction of the $6.7 million in the budget recommended by city staff.  The Transform TO  goals include 80 per cent GHG reduction by 2050 (based on 1990 baseline); the website provides documentation and updates.

Finally, the mainstream Globe and Mail newspaper promises a new series of articles focusing on Canadian cities and climate change.  The first installment: “Halifax’s battle of the rising sea: Will the city be ready for future floods and storms?” (March 5).

 

Pollution cost Canada $2 billion in Lost Labour Output alone

The June 2017 report, Costs of Pollution in Canada: Measuring the impacts on families, businesses and governments reviews and synthesizes existing studies to produce the most comprehensive assessment of pollution and its costs  in Canada to date. Some quick facts: the cost of climate change-related heat waves in Canada is estimated to have been $1.6 billion in 2015; Smog alone cost Canadians $36 billion in 2015. But the report also provides detailed estimates, organized in three categories: 1.  Direct Welfare Costs: (Harm to health and well-being such as  lower enjoyment of life, sickness and premature death); 2.  Direct Income Costs – (Direct out of pocket expenses for families (e.g. medications for asthma), businesses (e.g. increased maintenance costs for buildings) and governments (remediation of polluted sites); and 3. Wealth impacts.

Direct Welfare Costs of pollution, the most studied and understood,  are estimated as at least $39 billion in 2015, or about $4,300 for a family of four.  The Direct Income Costs   that could be measured amounted to $3.3 billion in 2015, but the study cautions that this many important costs could not be measured, and full impacts on income were likely in the tens of billions of dollars.  In this category, the study estimates  Lost Labour Outputs, using a metric derived from the 2016  OECD study,  The  Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution.  The OECD estimates outdoor air pollution to cost 0.1% of national GDP, which, when applied to Canada’s  2015 GDP of approximately  $1,986 billion, implies a costs of about $2 billion in lost labour output alone. And finally, Wealth impacts, or costs on value of assets , are said to be the least understood of pollution costs, about which, “We simply do not know how much pollution costs us in terms of lost wealth”.

Costs of Pollution in Canada: Measuring the impacts on families, businesses and governments was prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), with funding from the Ivey Foundation; the full report is available in English- only. Summaries are in English  and French.Short  videos were derived in cooperation with the Conference Board of Canada to focus on key topics:  e.g. extreme weather, contaminated sites, and smog .