Heat pumps help keep your home warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE

Our planetary health: Heat pumps are a healthy option for us, and for the planet

Helen Boyd

Special to Black Press

Climate change is widely considered to be the greatest global health threat facing the world in the 21st century.

It is time to rethink how our basic needs for clean air and warmth are being met.

What if a different source of heating could provide both cooling in the face of heat waves that are predicted with our changing climate and concomitantly increase the efficiency of our heating by 150 to 400 per cent? Fortunately, we don’t need to wait for this technology to be developed, it already exists and is readily available in the heat pump. We are familiar with a similar prototype that exists in each household in North America in the form of a refrigerator. The same concepts apply to both appliances, both have a compressor, condenser, and evaporator and both transfer cold space to a hot one. Recently, the Comox Valley Regional District offered a webinar on heat pumps to increase knowledge of this climate-friendly means of heating/cooling and is undoubtedly hoping for a rapid adoption through its various incentives and rebates.

A further advantage is the economic stimulus to be gained by the creation of jobs for this burgeoning industry. The need for heat pump installers, and maintenance workers would contribute to the development of a new skill set that will readily be needed in the era of climate change solutions. In addition, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions globally by this existing solution of heat pumps is well documented in Project Drawdown to be in the magnitude of 4.16 to 9.26 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050.

An economic argument is often put forth that the cost of heat pumps is prohibitive. In order to redress this inequity, municipalities across Canada such as Bridgewater, Nova Scotia have been able to provide necessary rebates specifically aimed at lower-income households, who are all too often spending a substantial amount of their earnings on the energy costs of heating their homes. A survey conducted by the CVRD revealed that as many as 75 per cent of those who own woodstoves in the Comox Valley expressed a desire to change their heating source to a heat pump if they could afford the cost. The will to change exists and through creative incentive programs, we can work towards meeting this basic need while respecting the well-being of our planet.

Challenging a long-standing B.C. cultural history that centres around the warmth provided at the foot of the hearth seems daunting, but the impacts of wood-burning practices are long proven detrimental to health. Biomass fires deliver particulate matter known as PM2.5 that although microscopic has far-reaching health consequences when deeply seeded in the lungs through inhalation. In fact, in 2017, the University of B.C. conducted an evidence-based study in the Comox Valley that revealed an increase of 19 per cent in hospital admissions for cardiovascular incidents such as heart attacks in individuals over the age of 65, which correlated with the highest concentration of particulate matter in the winter months when woodstoves are burning. Exacerbations of asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are but a few of the chronic illnesses associated with wood smoke as well as an increasing vulnerability to COVID-19 and other viruses. The cost of these increased visits to the emergency room, doctor’s office visits and hospital admissions due to air pollution are at an estimated economic cost of close to one billion dollars ($1B) to the province of B.C. Therefore, all actions to reduce these emissions can have real health benefits both in dollars and sense.

Helen Boyd, R.N. is the co-ordinator of the Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment Website: www.cvhe.org​; ​email: cvnhe@telus.net

Climate crisisColumnComox Valley