Tackling Climate Change Could Be the 21st Century's Greatest Health Opportunity, Medical Journal Report Says

06/22/2015 07:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

Swift action on climate -- a fast transition from fossil fuels to clean energy -- will save our country (and the world) so much money on healthcare that the transition would easily pay for itself and then some. That's the headline news in a new report on climate change and health released by an international group of medical experts and published in one of the world's most prestigious medical journals, The Lancet.

Of course, the good news of solutions in not all these experts tell us. The Lancet report details the dangers that climate change already poses to human health--to your health and mine--that many of us are currently unaware of. Here we are talking about increased risks of death, injury and illness from extended heatwaves, far-reaching droughts, deep and dangerous floods, amped-up hurricanes, wildfires that burn longer and hotter than they did even 10 years ago. Already, doctors in places like Virginia, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania have documented increases in asthma and other breathing problems, more dangerous insect-borne and infectious diseases, allergies that start earlier and last longer. And the Lancet report describes, sometimes in scary terms, how much worse things could get if we don't act now.

But the report also shows us a path forward: "[T]ackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century," the Lancet authors wrote. That's meaningful for each of us as individuals--for kids with asthma and their parents, for seniors at greater risk of heat stroke and death, for teenagers whose allergies are so out-of-control they can hardly focus on school. But it's also meaningful at a national level. On the individual and family level, many of us are weighed down and even broken by the high personal and medical costs of illness. That being the case, the Lancet report gives us welcome news that confronting climate change is one of the smartest things we can do, and not just for our health but for our nation's economy and our own wallets, too. In fact, the Lancet report confirms and NRDC's own modeling shows that with a fast clean-energy transition, we can create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and cut consumers' energy bills, all while making important reductions in heart attacks, lung diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity and strokes.

I'm in with this plan. How about you?

One of the best and most effective ways to make these pollution cuts happen, on a national level, is through the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from the nation's existing power plants. They're our largest polluter and one of the nation's worst health offenders. Why? Because fossil fuel pollution has been linked to everything from black lung disease to dementia, from cancer to birth defects, from kidney damage to heart disease. As we burn fewer fossil fuels in these power plants (and in cars and trucks, too) and instead turn to clean energy, fewer toxic pollutants will spew out of power-plant smokestacks and vehicle tailpipes along with the climate-disturbing carbon pollution. In fact, here there is what doctors often call a dose-response relationship: the more clean energy we use, the faster we get off dirty fossil fuels, the better our health and the healthier our economy.

Those are facts the EPA should take note of as it pulls together the Clean Power Plan's final rules, due out later this summer. Simply put, the more ambitious our carbon cuts, the better. As NRDC observed in our comments on the proposed CPP rules, there's plenty of room for more cost-effective, deeper carbon reductions that will benefit us all.

These are just what the doctors and other medical experts who wrote the Lancet report have ordered. As with many other health problems, the faster and more decisively we move on this one, the healthier we'll be.