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Catherine Thomasson

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Climate Change Relief Means Help for Our Health

Posted: 07/01/2013 12:58 pm

Do you have health? I'm not just asking if you're disease-free or a healthy weight. There will be increasing life-threatening heat waves, so I'm also asking if you have a plan to protect yourself and your family. Do you have access to safe, clean drinking water? Do you have clean air to breathe? Do you and your loved ones have reliable electricity for your air conditioning and refrigeration?

It could all disappear with worsening climate change. Just ask the Hurricane Sandy survivors, those with Lyme disease, or the residents downwind from rampant fires in eight western states. Or ask the child who will wheeze this weekend, when rising temperatures elevate the ground-level ozone to a level that aggravates conditions such as asthma and can make breathing difficult even for healthy people.

In light of this, Physicians for Social Responsibility applauds the common-sense approaches President Obama put forward to lower carbon pollution. We view the executive actions he outlined as a triple win: lowering carbon pollution, decreasing water and air pollution and increasing family-wage jobs for Americans.

Consider what we're already losing here due to climate change and its impacts. By addressing climate change and air pollution, in California alone, between 2005 and 2007, we could save up to $93 million in averted hospitalization costs by reducing our particulates and ozone to levels advised by the EPA according to a Rand Study. The cost of wildfires across eight states in 2012 was over $1 billion. The total payout for all extreme weather events in the US in 2012 was over $110 billion.

Cutting carbon pollution can begin immediately by implementing the Environmental Protection Agency's rule on new power plants and by writing a new rule (one the courts have called for) to reduce carbon pollution created by existing power plants. Implementation will require electricity companies to shift to cleaner sources such as solar and wind. This will improve everyone's health.

That isn't the only solution, however, so the president is calling for increased energy efficiency so that less heating, cooling and electricity is needed to make our lives comfortable and productive. This important step is key to creating American jobs in the construction and remodeling industries and lowering the high rate of unemployment across the country. Jobs support good health, too.

Improving car and truck fuel efficiency will also markedly improve our air quality. When particulate pollution from fuel combustion is reduced, we see an immediate lowering of cardiac deaths from heart arrhythmias. Decreasing the amount of gasoline or coal burned will also lower emissions of the precursors of ground-level ozone that keep our children indoors on bad air days, can cause permanent lung damage, and even result in harm to the unborn child.

Without these measures, we will continue to pay dearly for extreme weather events made worse or lengthened due to climate change. In the 2006 California heat wave, over 1 million were without electricity. Impacts included: death tolls from 150-450, 16,000 excess ER visits, 1,000 excess hospitalizations, and marked agricultural impacts including 25,000 cattle and 700,000 chicken deaths.

As the president outlined, there is no single way we can reverse climate change, but we must begin soon as the impacts will only worsen. We must conserve energy while improving the efficiency of our energy, transportation and agricultural systems. Solutions and mechanisms to do so already exist, and we must seize them while recognizing they are not solely for the betterment of the environment. Climate change is a health issue; it's already threatening our well-being at the most personal levels: our bodies, our families and our communities. Thankfully the President's plan recognizes that, which is why it's time to move full speed ahead putting it to action.

 
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