Wildfires: Climate change is here and it affects all of us

How Toronto Community Housing is working to reduce our environmental footprint

Climate change is here and it affects all of us, no matter where we live. In recent weeks, you may have seen the hazy reddish sunrises and sunsets in Toronto. There has also been a smoky smell when you step outside. These scenes are happening across all of eastern North America and are the result of smoke from wildfires in Quebec and Northeastern Ontario. Even in Toronto, located hundreds of kilometers from the flames, we are experiencing negative impacts on our health and well-being.

Wildfires can significantly affect air quality. Smoke and particulate matter can travel long distances, reaching regions far away from the immediate fire-affected areas. This can pose a threat to the respiratory health of Toronto residents. If people inhale pollutants from wildfires, it can lead to health problems. This can include respiratory issues, and skin and eye irritation.

Wildfires are nothing new in Canada, and the wildfire season typically goes from spring to fall across different regions. However, climate change has increased the risk of wildfires through rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and more intense droughts. These changes create drier and more flammable vegetation, leading to more powerful, frequent, and long-lasting wildfires.

What drives climate change?

Human activities that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere are the main driver of climate change. These gases trap heat and contribute to the rise in the Earth's average temperature. In Toronto, greenhouse gas emissions are mostly caused by unsustainable energy use, transportation, and waste management.

Buildings also use fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and cooling. This is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings in Toronto account for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Transportation is the second-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the city, but it only accounts for less than a third of all emissions. That is why using public transportation, cycling, and walking is a great way to fight climate change.

The third significant contributor is waste, particularly organic waste. When food scraps decompose in landfills, they produce methane gas. This type of gas is far more powerful over the short term than carbon dioxide (CO2) in warming the atmosphere. Proper waste sorting, including recycling and composting, can considerably lessen the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators. This practice helps conserve natural resources, reduce energy consumption, and lessen climate change.

What do we do at Toronto Community Housing to reduce our environmental impact?

At Toronto Community Housing, we are actively working towards a greener, sustainable, and more enjoyable future. We have a Conservation team dedicated to improving the quality of life for tenants, staff, and communities by promoting simple and impactful conservation actions. The team implements and manages conservation initiatives and programs with the goal of reducing utility consumption and waste by 25 per cent by 2028.

This team also educates tenants and staff on individual and collective actions everyone can take to reduce their environmental impact. They also give information to tenants on how to take advantage of new building and unit upgrades to minimize utility consumption. Through programs like the Thermostat Program, Green Office initiatives, the Leadership in Conservation staff education program, Utility Reports, and an extensive Waste Program, our team is working to transition to a healthier and more environmentally conscious future in the organization, communities, and the city itself.

One key program is the different campaigns our Conservation team uses to educate tenants about simple ways to conserve energy in your unit. For example, to help keep a healthy home for you and your family, make sure to clean your portable AC filter regularly.

We all depend on our environment. Every action, no matter how small, counts. Together we can make a big difference!

For more information on conservation initiatives in your community, please contact conservation@torontohousing.ca or visit the Toronto Community Housing Conservation webpage.