We have 'preventative' solutions to treat climate change — but Congress must unleash the cure (Op-ed)
Health care professionals across Montana are increasingly seeing the negative health effects of climate change. Many have had patients move out of state to escape the lengthening wildfire smoke season. Anxious children wonder why summer expeditions get canceled. Some have even reported having had patients shut down their farm and ranch operations due to extreme drought.
After a year blighted by extreme heat, deadly wildfires, and smoke, it’ll come as little surprise to many that 2023 is the hottest year on record globally. It’s clear we need to address this issue head-on.
A mounting body of evidence highlights the link between our reliance on fossil fuels and the toll on people’s health. A recent study found that the combination of extreme heat and fine particulate pollution doubles the risk of heart attack. Other research showed that children living near oil and gas wells are 5 to 7 times more likely to develop lymphoma.
Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for numerous diseases and medical conditions, and often exacerbates pre-existing ones. As communities worldwide confront more frequent flooding threats, waterborne diseases like E. coli and cholera are on the rise. With nearly 700 U.S. hospitals on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts at riskof flooding from hurricanes, hospital systems across the country are struggling to adapt.
Meanwhile, climate change threatens to magnify existing disparities. Rising temperatures lead to higher cooling bills, and increased flooding leads to higher premiums for home insurance. Under-resourced communities suffer from increased exposure to heat, pollution, flooding, and the impacts of extreme weather. Wildfires, poor air quality, evacuations, and power outages pose dangerous challenges for those with complex medical conditions and their caregivers.
As health care workers who have sworn to "do no harm," it’s our duty to speak up about the need to transition to cleaner energy sources that reduce air pollution, save lives, and ensure better outcomes.
It’s the responsibility of elected representatives, who’ve sworn to "faithfully discharge" the duties of their offices, to enact legislation that protects their constituents from harm.
Just as preventative health care measures guard against dire health outcomes, we possess "preventative" solutions to avoid the worst of climate change. We simply need Congress to take action.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would deploy a powerful tool to drive down America’s carbon pollution. The legislation puts a fee on carbon pollution with the money collected from fossil fuel companies given back to Americans via a monthly 'carbon cashback' payment so everyone can afford the transition.
If passed and implemented it could help improve health and save millions of American lives over the next 50 years by reducing the pollution we breathe. Poor air quality from burning fossil fuels is responsible for as many as 1 in 10 American deaths today and sickens thousands more.
While our congressional delegation, Senators Daines and Tester and Representatives Zinke and Rosendale, have supported some climate policies, they must do more to reduce carbon pollution.
Imagine a world where the air is visibly cleaner, the climate stable, and 50,000 American lives are saved each year from the reduced air pollution.
In health care, we often say, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and this timeless wisdom needs to be applied to our changing climate.
Will we continue burning fossil fuels, perpetuating a growing health care burden and an estimated annual U.S. health care cost of $77 billion due to air pollution? Will we continue burning fossil fuels now that we have healthier and less costly alternatives? Or, will we take action now to prevent the worst and save countless lives, not to mention health care dollars, in the future?