As John Podesta, recently resigned counselor to President Barack Obama, said: "Taking action on climate change today is our best hope for ensuring our children a prosperous future." In order to lead the international conversation to curb carbon pollution and protect our communities from climate impacts, he believes we first must make progress at home. This approach is not exclusive to the President, however. The health sector can lead on climate solutions, but we must begin with our home institutions. Health leaders who wish to model effective leadership on other successes can read stories about how others have made climate change a priority in their organizations.
By JOHN PODESTA I February 13, 2015
Fifty years ago this week, Lyndon Johnson, in pushing America to clean up its air and water, made a prescient prediction: “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale,” Johnson wrote as part of a message to Congress on environmental protection, “through…a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”
Five decades later, we are living with the effects of the carbon dioxide pollution Johnson observed: more frequent and extreme storms, longer and fiercer wildfire seasons, the slow creep of sea level rise and the steady upward trajectory of temperatures. Last year, 2014 was the hottest year on record; 14 of the 15 hottest years have come in this century. Atmospheric greenhouse gases at their highest levels in at least 800,000 years.
In Johnson’s day, Congress responded expediently. The laws they passed laid the groundwork for the Environmental Protection Agency, which for more than 40 years has shown that protecting the environment and growing the economy are not at odds, reducing pollution by more than 70 percent while the economy has tripled.
Unfortunately, many in today’s Congress are responding to the urgency of the climate threat not with action, but with obstruction, skepticism, and outright denial. This week, the Senate held a hearing on the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan rule, which would set the first-ever limits on how much carbon pollution power plants can put in our air and vastly improve public health as a result, averting up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children per year. Republicans criticized the proposal from every angle—including by claiming it doesn’t do enough.
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