Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants known as the Clean Power Plan. This plan gives states the guidance they need to create their own framework to limit carbon pollution. While the final rule is not as rigid as opponents expected, they still claim that the plan requirements are too expensive and will harm Arizona’s economy. However, the EPA estimates for every dollar invested, roughly seven dollars’ worth of health benefits will be realized.
For the Arizona Public Health Association, climate change is not a political issue, it’s a health issue. There are two main ways climate change can affect human health: first, by changing the frequency or severity of health problems that are already linked to weather and climate; and second, by producing unforeseen health problems in places where they have not occurred before.
Older adults and people who work outdoors have a greater risk of dying due to increased intensity, duration and frequency of heat waves. People who are socially isolated, economically disadvantaged and those with chronic illnesses are also at higher risk of death or illness. Increasing temperatures will allow more ground level ozone to form. Hotter, drier weather raises particulate pollution due to more wind-blown dust and wildfires. Higher temperatures may allow plants to release more allergens. All of these pollutants creep indoors and worsen respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, causing increased hospital visits, lost school and workdays, and premature deaths. Rising temperatures and weather extremes are expected to increase the incidence and distribution of pests, parasites and microbes. This will lead to higher use of pesticides to protect crops and animals, resulting in more human exposure to chemical contaminants in the food chain. More extreme weather events such as droughts and hurricanes may disrupt distribution of food, leading to food shortages, damage, spoilage or contamination. Mosquito and water-borne diseases are expected to become more prevalent as the world gets warmer. Unfortunately, these are just a few of the projected health effects from climate change.
In order to truly minimize the effects of the overwhelming evidence of rapidly occurring climate change, we need a sensible path over the next few decades to replace most fossil fuel sources of energy including coal, oil and natural gas. Alternatives include energy efficiency and clean energy sources like solar and wind.
It’s time for Arizona to embrace the Clean Power Plan, to transition away from practices that are harmful to the air we breathe and work towards a cleaner, healthier environment for all of us. After all, what’s more important than health?
– Daniella Smith is executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association