The climate crisis is a health crisis
The American house recently passed legislation on infrastructure as well as a budget resolution which could be its “the highest climate bill of all time”, With essential provisions such as the Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP) which can realistically bring us to 80% clean energy by 2030.
But more specifically, if key plans to revolutionize our energy, transportation and agriculture sectors and dramatically reduce carbon emissions are included in the final budget reconciliation package, Congress will pass more than just bills. on climate and infrastructure – they will protect American families with boldness and crucial health bills.
The deadly heat of this oppressive summer alone made it clear – the climate crisis is a health crisis. Disastrous predictions from the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report even greater increases in heat and humidity. If we don’t aggressively reduce our use of dirty fossil fuels, the world will continue to get hotter, faster – with no more extremely hot days which will last longer.
Doctors across the country are treating the thermal impacts of climate change. It’s not our future, it’s our present.
During the first of several record-breaking heat waves in Portland, Oregon, emergency responders found people in a coma on the streets, in the bushes – some without identification. Nurses were forced to use their patients’ lifeless fingers to unlock all fingerprinted cell phones to identify these anonymous people – then notify family their loved ones were in the hospital, on a device respiratory recovery.
Heatstroke is too simple a word to accurately describe what happens when we encounter temperatures beyond our limits, temperatures that we cannot adapt to: our nerves stop communicating, our proteins unfold and our cells disintegrate.
Basically, at the cellular level, we are melting.
A scary prospect? Certainly. But the recent IPCC report also makes it clear that there are steps we can take, if not to reverse the irreversible, to prevent the temperature rise from getting worse. The good news is that Congress is finally about to move forward with landmark legislation that will protect our lives and livelihoods.
Because climate change – and its effects on health – is one of the most complex problems of our time, we cannot count on a single quick fix. As climatologist Jeremy Hoffman recently said in an interview with me, we need to invest in the “cash boost”. We must tackle this large-scale health crisis with simultaneous solutions.
Already we are spending more than 850 billion dollars every year on the health effects of polluted air and climate change-related disasters – like the scorching heat waves we’ve just experienced – and that cost is only expected to increase with the accelerating pace of climate instability . The side effects of every “climate fix” will earn us lives saved and reduce healthcare costs.
For every dollar invested in clean, renewable energy, we are paid back in long-term health benefits from fewer people suffering from heat-related illnesses and deaths.
And massive investments to electrify the transport sector and green the agricultural sector will lead to health benefits cleaner air, water and soil.
Dedicating money in the budget to prioritize cleaning up the most devastated communities – largely low-income and communities of color – also protects us all. The wind blows and the water flows, so the pollution does not stay within localized limits. When dirty fuels are phased out, people living in the communities where these industries operate will quickly reap health benefits, but so will all communities, even those that are. hundreds of kilometers away.
Every bold proposition like CEPP coupled with an aggressive timeline plays a role in dealing with the problem and every element protects our health. We cannot afford to dilute these essentials.
Some might say the costs are too high, but the costs of doing nothing are even higher. We are finally at a time when most Americans agree that investments to fight climate change must be made to protect both the health and financial interests of American taxpayers. This moment must be seized.
Others fear that even if we do our part as Americans, the leaders of other nations will not do theirs. Regardless of the actions of other nations, our investments will allow us to protect American health and demonstrate American leadership. Having a clear policy will also serve us well as we seek to bring other nations to the next United Nations climate conference (COP26) in November 2021.
Congress must pass all the laws that invest heavily in our future in clean energy, infrastructure and jobs – and they must do so without further delay.
These are more than infrastructure and climate bills – they are health bills that will save American lives.
Dr. Neha Pathak is a physician and medical writer reporting on the impacts of climate change on health. She is also a member of the Public Voices on Climate Crisis with The OpEd Project and The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.