Sweating out the ‘golden years’

Work in Progress

By Ivan Morgan

Recently I happened to find myself in the meat section of a local supermarket. There was an elderly couple ahead of me. She was looking through the cutlets. He was pushing the cart. They were kind of in my way, but as I was raised to be respectful of my elders (not that there are many left older than me) I was waiting politely.

She looked up and saw me and pulled her husband and cart closer to let me by. I smiled. She smiled. As I passed by, I heard her sigh and say to her husband “No meat for us again this week.”

That got me thinking of the plight of many of our senior citizens. They say the mark of a society is how we treat our most vulnerable. If that is so, I don’t think we are doing so well. Of all the people getting squeezed by inflation, seniors are the ones suffering the most.

Can we now add climate change to the list of things tormenting our senior population? I volunteer at a local food bank and last Saturday it was (as we all know) sweltering. Several senior patrons were telling me that their homes (or apartments, or rooms) were not air conditioned and they were suffering. One woman in her eighties told me even though she had no money, she went up to her local supermarket, got a cart, put a few items in it and wandered around for an hour just to take advantage of the air conditioning.

It reminded me of a line from the late great punk band The Clash, referring to homeless people huddled around the heating vent of a five-star hotel. “It was the only kindness – and it was accidental too.”

A lot of people thought the weather was wonderful. These seniors didn’t – they couldn’t get away from it.

Cold we understand. When Dark NL struck, people knew to get seniors and others to warmth. People were sought out, bundled up and taken to warming stations which had been hastily set up. It was similar in Snowmageddon. But what about this heat?

Are we at the cooling stations stage yet? Maybe not, but from what I have seen, we’re pretty close.

Many of us can hop in our car and head to the pond or beach to beat the heat. These folks are often stranded by poverty.

I think we need a plan.

Nothing kills a column faster than statistics but indulge me. Last year, the BC coroner reported that 570 people died of heat related incidents during their June heatwave, and 79 per cent of those victims were 65 years or older. The coroner qualified the number saying many of them were frail. You think? That’s what being a senior is for many.

I have not seen any statistics for this place. I don’t even know if they collect statistics on this. Is this a problem?

Government created a seniors advocate office but didn’t give them the funding or a staff to do much (not by accident). Maybe they have the resources to look into the future danger of hot weather on vulnerable seniors in the province?

Municipal leaders are often the best for this sort of on the ground planning (that fancy government-speak that means they do stuff). What are they saying?

Sorry for more statistics, but provincial data tells us in 2016, persons aged 55 and over made up 35 per cent of the province’s population.

That’s quite the voting bloc. Inflation, health care, housing, maybe now climate change? If we all voted as a block, politicians would pay careful attention.

That probably won’t happen, but it’s worth thinking about. How great would it be if we started throwing our weight around?

Wouldn’t it be better if government felt the heat?

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