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Gulf Oil Spill: Green Energy Is Healthy Energy

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It's been a big couple of weeks for energy policy news. President Obama addressed the nation last Tuesday, giving an oval office address on the Gulf Coast oil spill. His speech had many detractors, but he did start to link the oil disaster to the creation of a green energy policy, a critical next stop in protecting our health and our planet. Yesterday, the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, appeared before Congress to testify about the oil spill. He did not add much to the process of determining what really happened on the Deep Water oil rig when it exploded on April 20, but his appearance did stir up the usual controversy about the role of government versus industry in preventing or at least responding to environmental. And of course Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas added his conservative voice to the entire mess, accusing President Obama of 'shaking down BP' when he used his presidential powers to assure that the very flawed and complicit corporation set aside $20 billion to help with all aspects of cleaning up the environmental disaster they have created.

The oil spill and questions about US energy policy have certainly received a lot of press in the past few days. But what's missing from this discussion? The most important message: a green energy policy is a healthy policy.

As a physician and a climate change activist, I have the gravest climate change and health facts etched in my mind. Our planet has warmed nearly 1 degree Celsius since the 1970's. We have already exceeded the extremely dangerous 350 ppm greenhouse gas emission threshold. Most critically, 150, 000 people die annually from the health effects of climate change. With the droughts, floods, heat waves and infectious disease risks caused by climate change already unleashed upon humanity, climate change is no longer a looming public health disaster. It's a public health disaster that has arrived. The US needs to launch a huge green energy initiative immediately in order to protect the health of Americans and people all over the globe.

A large decrease in US greenhouse gas emissions requires many moving parts. We need to reduce our consumption of oil, gas and coal. We need to reconstruct our national electrical grid and start to replace our dirty, dangerous and deadly coal plants with green energy driven by solar, water and wind power. We need to make the connection between fossil fuels and their human and planetary health consequences, and we need political leaders with the vision to help us jump start our 21st century green energy economy.

How does the Gulf oil spill play into this? This deadly, destructive, messy, expensive massive accident may have a silver lining. President Obama can turn this "burning water moment" into an opportunity to create a real green energy economy. He can say to Tony Hayward something like this: "Mr. Hayward, in addition to setting aside $20 billion to help clean up the Gulf Coast and compensate men and women who have lost their livelihood in the wake of this massive accident, I'd like you to start construction of 5 wind turbine plants and 5 solar panel plants in the Gulf Coast area. You see, the US must respond to the public health crisis brought on by climate change by decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions. And hiring people who can no longer fish or drive tour boats or work in the tourist industry until you restore the Gulf Coast to work in green energy industry instead will help jump start our green energy economy. This represents the best compensation you can give to the local folks most affected by the oil spill and to the rest of the world."

This is the kind of silver lining our green energy future and the health of our planet needs now.

Though I work for Physicians for Social Responsibility, this blog post represents my personal views.

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