As 2016 draws to a close, the United States is being pulled in two directions. As signatories to the 2015 Paris Agreement, we are committed to moving forward along with the international community to implement the carbon-reduction pledges agreed to at the COP22 climate talks this fall. But with an incoming president who denies the reality of climate change and has pledged to double down on older, dirtier forms of energy, such climate progress seems to be shifting into reverse. It can feel like we everyday citizens are stuck in the middle.
But while our new commander-in-chief holds one type of power, it’s helpful to remember his is a minority view. We climate advocates have the power of numbers and our voices to let him know that we want progress on climate and health, and that we intend to do our part to bring about positive change regardless. That is the idea behind the open letter to President-elect Trump ecoAmerica published in USA TODAY, America’s largest-circulation newspaper, on December 12. It now includes more than 200 signers and counting, including eight from Climate for Health’s Leadership Circle.
Beyond being an appeal to common values – public health, economic prosperity, and national well-being – and an official request for political leadership on climate, the letter makes explicit that leaders from all sectors of society, like large majorities of the American public, are united on this issue.
So as we move into 2017, it’s important to take stock of this fact and to forge connections with other like-minded individuals and groups, whose own appeals to Mr. Trump provide scientific information and useful arguments we can share with patients, colleagues, and the public. In addition, these letters feature a veritable “holiday wish list” of positive changes American leaders would like to see in the year ahead – from substantial investments in clean energy to stronger standards for vehicle emissions. Obviously, these can be used as goalposts to track whether the new administration is moving forward or backward on climate and health policy. But they can also help us plan our own actions in the spheres over which we have most control, and offer benchmarks for success that help us lead by example.
Environment America and LowCarbonUSA are just two of the other organizations amplifying the chorus of calls for climate action by publishing open letters with lists of actionable requests.
Environment America’s petition to the president-elect, signed by 1,100 health care professionals from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, was released on December 16. The document, which spans 32 pages, asks Trump to “tackle the climate crisis as a top priority in your office” and makes the environmental health case for reducing carbon emissions.
Citing the signers’ professional expertise in the “connection between preventing the worst impacts of climate change and human health,” the letter documents numerous proven links between climate change and illness, citing and linking to the 2016 Climate and Health Assessment from the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
The Health Case for Action
Environment America’s letter includes this (paraphrased) “wish list” for climate leadership:
1. Support the Clean Power Plan and encourage states to craft plans to reach and exceed their carbon reduction goals through renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.
2. Maximize investments in clean energy and transportation infrastructure such as solar and wind energy, energy-efficient buildings, public transit, and walkable communities.
3. Phase out drilling and mining for coal, gas, and oil on our public lands and waters.
4. Hold the oil and gas industry to the same standards as other industries by closing “loopholes” that risk our clean air and water.
5. Set the strongest possible fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for automobiles while encouraging policies and incentives that aid a transition to a zero-carbon transportation sector.
The Business Case for Action
LowCarbonUSA, a coalition of business, investor, and environmental groups coordinated by Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Ceres, Environmental Defense Fund, and others, published their own online letter to Mr. Trump (which also addresses President Obama, members of the U.S. Congress, and global leaders). Signatories represent nearly 500 people, including leaders of major corporations such as eBay, NIKE, and Tiffany & Co.
Their statement makes the business case for climate action:
“We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy.….Implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all.”
LowCarbonUSA’s wish list includes broad guidelines for shaping national and international economic policy:
1. Continuation of low-carbon policies to allow the US to meet or exceed our promised national commitment and to increase our nation’s future ambition
2. Investment in the low-carbon economy at home and abroad in order to give financial decision-makers clarity and boost the confidence of investors worldwide
3. Continued U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement, in order to provide the long-term direction needed to keep global temperature rise below 2°C
What We Can Do Now
Besides continuing to speak out and affirm our commitment to positive action on climate, the healthcare community can create “New Year’s resolutions” that help to fulfill these wish lists in our jobs and lives. For example, we can read and share the Climate and Health Assessment Report; take public transit and support transit-centered development in our communities; and get rooftop solar to heat and power our offices, hospitals, and homes. And we can work with our elected leaders to start or expand renewable energy initiatives being advanced widely at local and state levels.
The visions outlined by LowCarbonUSA offer other ideas. For example, we can encourage our state to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector. We can urge our own institutions to make clean-energy investments – on site, and in how they manage their funds. This might include divesting from fossil fuel stocks, as some medical societies, hospitals, and health care organizations are already doing. And we can patronize businesses that signed LowCarbonUSA’s letter, because their operations are already moving in a sustainable direction.
By the way, you can still sign on to show your support for the declaration in ecoAmerica’s letter here.
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