The Clean Power Plan is not only about reducing the impacts of one of the worst threats ever faced by humanity, it is also about addressing one of the foremost health issues of our times. The Clean Power Plan will protect human health by significantly reducing climate change causing greenhouse gases and air pollution.
Climate change and human health
There is a large and growing pool of research showing how climate change makes us both physically and emotionally unwell. Some recent research described those health impacts as "catastrophic." Climate change is already deadly and it will get far worse in the future. Although estimates vary, the 2012 Climate Variability Monitor report estimated that, globally, climate change is already killing 400,000 people each year including 1000 children each day. This number could rise to 700,000 by 2030.
In the U.S., the EPA made the connection between climate change and human health six years ago. They pointed to a wide range of health impacts attributable to a warmer world. This relationship is being borne out by the clinical experience of doctors. A study by the American Thoracic Society found that seven out of 10 doctors reported climate change is contributing to more health problems among their patients.
U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy described climate change as “one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. By taking commonsense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligation to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children.”
Climate change is a killer and the death toll gets far worse when air pollution is added to the equation. As reported by Reuters, the combination of climate change and air pollution will kill up to 100 million globally by 2030.
A 2014 World Health Organization (WHO) report concluded that air pollution causes both climate change and disease. Air pollution is a very real threat causing millions of people to get sick and die. The WHO estimated that in 2012 alone, indoor and outdoor pollutants killed more than 7 million people. This is more than one in eight deaths worldwide. This is a staggering number when you consider that under-nutrition is responsible for 3 million deaths each year.
Fine particulate matter that is spewed into the air by power plants stay in our lungs and bloodstreams and cause us harm. The Clean Power Plan directly addresses pollution by reducing particulate matter in the air. It also helps allergy and asthma sufferers by reducing carbon dioxide levels that boost pollen counts. Rising rates of CO2 have led some allergists to predict higher rates of allergies. One even suggested that rates will double by 2040.
The Clean Power Plan will reduce the health impacts associated with airborne pollutants from the moment it is implemented. The EPA's plan will save between $55-93 billion in health and climate benefits. It will keep people from getting sick and save lives. Each year in the U.S., it is expected to prevent at least 3,500 deaths, 1,000 hospital admissions and 220 heart attacks.
“[T]he EPA and President Obama have taken the first major step towards fulfilling the president’s Climate Action Plan and protecting our children’s future,” said Micheal Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “The EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards will protect Americans from dangerous air pollution, protect our communities from harmful carbon pollution and strengthen our economy with clean energy jobs.”
It is startling to realize that almost half of Americans do not believe that global warming is real. That number has not changed much for the last couple of years despite the plethora of scientific research. Given the perniciousness of climate denial, we may need to consider another approach to get through.
While people may be able to distance themselves from the science of climate change, they are far more likely to consider health issues that touch them directly. The health impacts of power plant emissions resonates with those who somehow manage to resist the science connecting greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Consequently, focusing on the health impacts of power plant emissions may be the best way to reach those who appear impervious to the science of climate change.
Focusing on health
There is reason to believe that framing climate change as a health issue may be a fruitful approach. This new approach was part of a round-table discussion held recently at Howard University College of Medicine on the occasion of National Public Health Week. This discussion was joined by President Barack Obama, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and EPA chief Gina McCarthy.
"There are a whole host of public health impacts that are going to hit home, so we've got to do better in protecting vulnerable Americans," Obama explained to CNN's Sanjay Gupta earlier this year. "Ultimately, though, all of our families are going to be vulnerable. You can't cordon yourself off from air or climate."
There are a number of medical organizations, nurses, doctors, public health officials and schools of medicine that clearly identify climate change and air pollution as health issues. They are demanding that politicians act to improve air quality. A 2013 Time magazine article even suggested that medical professionals may be the best people to deliver the message to the American public.
"It’s imperative: Millions stand to benefit for the millions of kids who will have fewer asthma attacks in the future." EDF President Fred Krupp said. "For all of those who will be protected from the most damaging impacts of climate change. And for our children and grandchildren, who will know that our generation cared enough to leave them a safer, healthier world.”
Climate change is an economic concern, it is also a national security issue, but framing the problem in terms of human health may generate the most traction with American voters. Despite what Republicans and the dirty energy industry are saying, the Clean Power Plan is not only economically sound, it will protect people's health and keep people alive. The health benefits associated with the Clean Power Plan is something that most Americans can get behind.
The Clean Power Plan is about responsible governance. It is hard to argue against the economic benefits it augers, and even harder to argue against government's efforts to protect people's health.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.
Image credit: World Bank Photo Collection, courtesy flickr