British Columbia and Alberta residents who endured last summer’s lethal heat dome say they feel fear, anger, and guilt in its aftermath, testifying to the urgent need for Canadians to take personal and political responsibility for climate change as extreme weather threatens the vulnerable.
Don MacKenzie, a senior from Burnaby, B.C., who lost his friend and landlord to heat stroke, said in a video posted at 350 Canada’s climate stories project he felt profoundly angry that it was days after the death that health authorities began issuing warnings and advice on coping with extreme heat. MacKenzie recalled his friend’s last words to him: “I don’t feel very well,” and “I don’t know what’s wrong,” but it was too late by the time MacKenzie realized he had to call 911. He said his landlord was one of 25 seniors who died from heat stroke in Burnaby that night.
More than 600 people died during the heat dome \, “most of them seniors,” 350 added to Mackenzie’s story, which is included in their crowdsourced storytelling website built in partnership with Dogwood. The project “Living through climate disaster: Our stories, our future,” is spurred by a conviction that sharing personal experiences of extreme weather events is a powerful way to fight the dangerous narrative of climate delay—which has “replaced climate denial as the biggest threat to our future,” says 350 Canada. It cites the Justin Trudeau government’s ongoing approval of new oil and gas infrastructure and its “slow-walking” of just transition legislation as clear evidence of foot-dragging on climate action.
Kathleen Mpulubusi, an Edmonton postal worker with 20 years of experience, describes the heat as a wall that surrounded her, adding that “we were expected, and tried, to work through all the hot weather.” That was “very challenging,” she says, recalling being particularly worried about the well-being of young workers or those new on the job, without the seniority or confidence to tell management: “No, I’m done. That’s it.” In the wake of the heat dome, Mpulubusi said she hoped to see “more stringent limits” on worker safety risks at temperature extremes.
Rosheen Tetazlaff, a young environmental scientist who was working outdoors in Fort McMurray during the heat dome, echoed the need for worker protections. “An immediate thing we can do as the climate gets hotter is implement better workers’ rights.” She also urged some “actual climate action,” beginning with stopping all further funding of oil and gas infrastructure.
Other storytellers traced the terrifying impact of the heat dome on children. Annie Merritt described her struggle to keep her two-month-old son Wade alive through those terrible days in a small apartment without air conditioning. With the temperature in her room hitting 36°C at one point—the safe temperature for newborns is 18°C—Merritt eventually fled with Wade to the “slightly cooler” basement of a friend in a neighbouring community.
For Jane Armstrong of New Westminster, B.C., the heat dome has left a profound residue of grief, guilt, and the resolve to take action. Her sister Tracy died during the heat dome, from a combination of heat stress and renal failure, as she had contracted liver disease after 40 years of treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Armstrong mourned her failure to personally confirm her sister’s avowals that she was “doing okay” as temperatures soared. Filmed at a climate action demonstration, Armstrong spoke about the “personal responsibility to… look out for others,” as well as the urgent need for us all to “run in the direction of doing something, and making our governments represent the people and not corporations.”
Observing that “from B.C. to the Maritimes and the places in between, no community in Canada has been safe from extreme floods, fires and storms,” 350.org continues to solicit stories from Canadians who have lived through such climate disasters. To upload your own story, in any form, click here.