Climate and Carbon

Jul 12, 2013

Health professionals last month applauded President Obama for making a long-awaited announcement regarding his plans to address carbon pollution and climate change.

By making this announcement, the president put forth a framework for addressing the very real risks to public health posed by our warming climate.

Scientists warn that the buildup of carbon pollution creates warmer temperatures, which increase the risk of unhealthy ozone levels. More ozone, which is also known as smog, means more childhood asthma attacks and more complications for people with lung disease.

We’re also seeing the earlier arrival of spring, which extends the misery of allergy season. Longer, hotter summers also mean longer wildfire seasons, which contribute to significantly unhealthy summertime air quality.  All signs point to the problem getting worse and not better if we don’t take action now.

Too often, these health impacts tend to get overlooked when we discuss carbon and climate. But they are real and happening now.

President Obama’s plan calls for standards that would rein in carbon pollution from power plants and, thereby, help reduce premature deaths, asthma attacks and other health problems associated with air pollution.

In Montana, it’s important that families, seniors and the health community support these standards in order to protect public health and reduce illness. This is an issue that hits all of us very close to home.

Our state has large coal reserves, which industry hopes to mine and transport overseas – a practice that will not reduce carbon pollution worldwide. Montana also is home Colstrip, the second-largest coal-fired plant west of the Mississippi and one of the nation’s largest emitters of carbon pollution.

We can’t deny the important role coal has played in Montana’s economic and energy history. But we also can’t deny the risks it poses for our future.

When we discuss coal and its economic and social impacts, let’s not leave health out of the equation.  Pollution from coal plants is a major contributor to death and disease and drives up medical costs.

Emissions from coal-fired power plants take thousands of lives every year and cause tens of thousands of asthma attacks.  They fill our hospital emergency rooms with patients in severe respiratory and cardiac distress.

The American Lung Association in Montana is glad to see that some of our decision makers understand the problem of carbon pollution and climate change.

In response to President Obama’s announcement, Montana Senator Jon Tester noted the impact of extreme floods, drought and wildfires in our state and said “it is clear that we must address climate change.”

Senator Tester added that Montana now has an opportunity to invest in cleaner forms of energy and promote energy efficiency to help slow climate change. We must all do our part to support innovations that protect public health and help move our state into the future.

Power plants should no longer be allowed to emit unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air. We owe it to our kids and future generations to act now. Air pollution both fuels and is fueled by climate change. The tools to correct these problems are within our reach.

One question that remains is whether we have the political will to protect our children’s health.  We must support and encourage our leaders in Montana and Washington to take action and reduce the health impacts of climate change.