In America, our diversity defines us. The “melting pot” created from our heterogeneous population is what makes our country unique. With varying ethnic backgrounds, political and religious perspectives, a range of socio-economic statuses and ways of thinking, Americans feel strongly about our right to remain ourselves.
At the same time, it’s impossible to escape our similarities. As humans, we all have a desire to protect our families. Regardless of our political stances and income levels, we want our children, spouses, and parents to live long, healthy lives. When our loved ones get sick, it strains our hearts and resources.
Ironically, some of the technologies we created to “advance” our society are the ones that make us sick. The Industrial Revolution established our transportation systems and brought about coal mining practices. While we certainly wouldn’t want to turn back time to the 18th century, we must ask ourselves how our current standards of living are affected by the impact of inefficient transportation and coal emissions.
According to the EPA, the transportation sector is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and is currently responsible for an estimated 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions nationally. While we all want adequate access to transportation, none of us wish it to cause harm that can knowingly be prevented.
In addition, some of today’s largest looming health threats arise from our energy practices. While these are the practices that have been fueling our country for years, the use of coal, oil, nuclear, and gas have instigated innumerable environmental health problems. Millions of us have faced unnecessary health issues because of these dirty energy choices and poor planning. A recent shift in personal purchasing patterns, industry adaptations and changes in government programs reveal that millions more of us are unwilling to accept this.
The American Lung Association indicates that air pollution is affecting the health of nearly half of all Americans. Given that climate change is one of the major public health threats of our time, and as it has become evident that coal, oil, nuclear and gas are unhealthy choices, it’s critical we take advantage of better energy options that exist: namely, efficiency and renewables. These are choices that will promote our collective health. In fact, according to a poll commissioned by Reuters last year, it seems the vast majority of Americans believe it’s our moral responsibility to do so.
It’s no coincidence that solutions for climate change also provide us with the means to prevent some of our rising health issues. Thankfully, climate solutions are not only within our grasp, but have become ever more popular choices for individuals and households. Small-scale solar systems, typically on rooftops, generate electricity while proving to be affordable given current tax credits, rebates, and other means of local and federal support. Some home owners decide to purchase solar panels outright, but many solar customers are paying little or nothing up front by leasing them and paying fixed monthly rates. It’s exciting that, in 2016, solar power is a healthy and viable option. For many, choosing solar represents a vote for clean air and a diminished environmental burden.
It doesn’t hurt that the price of solar is competitive in today’s energy market, but it’s worth noting that families are drawn to solar for reasons aside from price. Solar is sustainable, non-polluting and, ultimately, less detrimental to our health and ecosystem than other options. When the power of the sun is hovering above our heads, more and more of us see that utilizing it just makes sense.
At the same time, many businesses are recognizing that they have a civic responsibility to look beyond profits. These businesses can see the impact that their choices have on public health, are getting pushback from consumers to operate more sustainably, and are organizing to respond to these concerns. Incongruously, after the food service industry, the health sector ranks as the number two commercial energy user in the United States, contributing to disease from a variety of emissions. Hospitals and ambulances contribute fine particulates, heavy metals and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere raising rates of asthma and aggravating respiratory disease. Healthcare facilities also contribute pollutants to the environment when they use energy regarding food choices, purchasing medical products and disposing of them, among other inputs. There’s hope for changing this, though. Health care organizations have realized their dependence on fossil fuels goes against their mandate to protect public health.
To that end, the annual CleanMed environmental conference for leaders in health care sustainability who are on the leading edge of greening the health care sector will be held in Dallas, Texas this May. One of the co-presenters of this conference is an organization called Practice Greenhealth, which is soon to release a Transportation Toolkit for hospitals so that they can act on their mission to care for others and become part of a clean energy solution. Health Care Without Harm, a coalition of hospitals and health care systems, medical professionals, and others, also aims to reduce health care’s carbon footprint, foster climate-resilient health systems, and mobilize the health sector to address climate change as a public health issue. Likewise, there are a host of other groups that advocate for solutions which can accelerate the transition to clean, renewable energy.
Similarly, federal health agencies are coming around to recognizing the impact of clean energy choices on our health. The Obama Administration’s National Climate Assessment, released earlier this month and reviewed by hundreds of experts, federal agencies, and the National Academy of Sciences, explores some of the health threats from dirty energy sources that our nation currently faces. Local health departments are progressively implementing climate and energy programs and using clean energy choices to their advantage.
Given the current state of U.S. politics, it may be hard to believe that Americans can come together harmoniously. But clearly, it’s happening. We’re uniting in action, despite our differences and political divides. Why? Because we know the health of our families and future is on the line.
Anna Linakis Baker, Writer and Social Media Manager for Climate for Health, has worked in the field of environmental health for over 15 years. She graduated from Georgetown University with a major in creative writing and has a Master of Public Health from Boston University. Email her at [email protected]
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