2017 is the Year of Climate Change and Health, a 12-month APHA-led initiative to raise awareness of the health impacts of climate change and to mobilize action. Each month will focus on a different aspect of climate change as it relates to health. The theme for March is clean energy. APHA’s Surili Patel discusses the role of energy in climate change and outlines action steps to reduce its impact.
Climate is always changing. It has been from the beginning of time. What is causing it to change more rapidly than expected is human activity. When we burn fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, we release carbon dioxide. CO2 builds up in the atmosphere and causes Earth’s temperature to rise, much like a blanket traps in heat. This extra trapped heat disrupts many of the interconnected systems in our environment.
What does this mean for our health?
The accelerated changes in the climate are inextricably linked to our health. As the Earth’s temperature rises, surface water temperatures in lakes rise creating a more hospitable environment for some harmful algae and other microbes to grow. Climate change also leads to heavier downpours and floods. Health is affected as the air we breathe is less healthy. Higher temperatures lead to an increase in allergens and harmful air pollutants. For instance, longer warm seasons can mean longer pollen seasons, which can increase allergic sensitizations and asthma episodes and diminish productive work and school days. And these are just a few examples.
What can we do?
Simple: invest in clean energy solutions. Clean, or renewable, energy comes from sources like wind, hydro, geothermal heat and solar. These are considered to be renewable sources of energy because they are replenishable. Unlike mining and burning dirty coal and fracking for natural gas, renewable and sustainable sources of energy do not leave lasting and devastating impressions on our environment and health.
The how is where it gets tricky. We need more investments in research and innovation that make fossil fuel energy technologies cleaner and less harmful to people and the environment. We also need to use more renewable sources of energy as a country.
As consumers, we can reduce our carbon footprint — the total amount of greenhouse gases produced directly and indirectly during the course of daily activities — by:
- driving less, taking mass transit, walking and biking;
- performing regular maintenance on your vehicle, if driving;
- recycling more and using reusable items such as water bottles, grocery bags, plate wear and cutlery;
- turning the thermostat up in summer and down in winter;
- replacing incandescent lightbulbs with energy-saving bulbs; and
- washing clothes in cold water and drying them using a drying rack rather than the dryer.
As a society, we need to collectively:
- support equitable policies that create infrastructure for safer mass transit and active transportation options;
- promote policies that incentivize the affordability of energy efficient appliances, vehicles and business practices;
- defend federal regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan, that put carbon pollution limits on power plants; methane emissions restrictions for oil and gas facilities; more protective ozone pollution standards; pollution emission standards for vehicles; and much more;
- create more clean energy jobs to replace those lost by shutting down outdated coal-fired power plants; and
- support the development of domestic renewable energy production and win the global race for clean energy innovation.
As reducing our carbon footprint is a collective effort, so is working toward a greener energy economy.
Get involved today! There are many ways to join the Year of Climate Change and Health. Here are just a few:
- share your clean energy resources with us via email at email@example.com;
- attend and promote climate change and health events as they become announced; and
- get out in your community to raise awareness of the connections between climate change and health.
APHA’s climate change page is your home for all the latest information on the Year of Climate Change and Health, including resources on clean energy. The year culminates with APHA’s 2017 Annual Meeting and Expo that will focus on climate change and health.