Progress to slow the pace of climate change is uneven, and the “big levers” – steps that will have widespread impact – are few. Thus, when the Supreme Court recently placed a stay on the Clean Power Plan, it threw many of us health professionals for a loop.
The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is a policy crafted by the US Environmental Protection Agency requiring the states to cut carbon emissions from their electricity sector. In practice, that means replacing at least some coal-fired power plants with low-carbon energy sources and/or increasing energy efficiency.
Health professionals are strongly supportive of the CPP, which simultaneously reduces climate pollution and reduces toxic air pollutants. Thus, many of us were sorely dismayed by the Supreme Court’s stay – a decision to halt implementation of the CPP while the policy is reviewed by a lower court. This was a setback to efforts to slow climate change, and a blow to respiratory and heart health.
Health professionals didn’t stay silent. We at Physicians for Social Responsibility drafted a letter to the governors of the fifty states, urging them to move forward with their CPP planning. Twelve additional health organizations promptly signed on, including a number who are leaders and partners in ecoAmerica’s Climate for Health initiative: the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Health Care without Harm, Center for Climate and Health-George Mason University, Public Health Institute, National Environmental Health Association, and Trust for America's Health.
Speaking as physicians, nurses, other health practitioners, and public health professionals, we asked the governors to advance the CPP “to help protect the health of Americans from the threats to health and survival posed by climate change.” And in fact, almost half the states have committed either to pursue the CPP or to pursue independent state-level clean energy legislation.
That isn’t all we’re doing to fight climate change. PSR’s new campaign, “Clean Energy Saves Lives,” provides simple-to-take monthly actions that help build the transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Health professionals and concerned citizens are all welcome to join us; sign up here to be informed of our monthly actions.
We’re also educating people across the country about the dangers associated with natural gas. Natural gas is primarily methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. Because methane leaks so heavily from wells, compressors, pipelines and delivery systems, the climate impact of burning natural gas is roughly on a par with coal-fired power plants.
Not only that; natural gas is increasingly extracted by the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In fracking, millions of gallons of water and chemicals are injected underground under high pressure to fracture deep-lying rock formations. This results in emissions of toxic gases, toxic contamination of huge quantities of water, and potential contamination of aquifers and drinking wells.
Between its climate-forcing properties and its dangerous chemicals, fracked natural gas is not a beneficial option to coal. The true solution lies in renewables like solar energy and wind power, and in energy efficiency to enable us to power our lives using less electricity.
Join us to lead our nation up that path to a clean, healthy energy system.
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