The nation’s new budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, claims that climate spending is a “waste of your money.” Translation: The Administration thinks protecting your health is a waste of money. That was made clear with yesterday’s Polluter First budget proposal, which among other things, zeros out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget for climate work.
Climate change is an urgent health threat, affecting our air, water, and food. Climate change makes us more vulnerable to heart attacks and strokes, breathing problems, tick- and mosquito borne illnesses, and even mental health stresses.
But don’t take it from me, when you can hear directly from doctors on the front lines of climate-related health risks. The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health—a national coalition of medical societies representing more than half of U.S. doctors —put out a report this week about climate change and health. One of the most compelling parts of the report was stories from practicing physicians like Virginia-based pediatrician Dr. Ahdoot, whose own son had an emergency brush with extreme heat:
“Every summer, I see the impacts of increasing temperature and heat waves on children … and warn parents of the dangers of increasing heat waves.”
Dr. Tellis, a retired pulmonologist, talked about the deadly Louisiana flood of 2016:
“The storm also unleashed a health crisis on survivors. Some fleeing their flooding homes lost their medications for hypertension, diabetes, and heart problems. Others reported stress, depression and anxiety in the weeks and months that followed. And long after the storm passed, some teachers reported children who felt so anxious and afraid when it rained that they needed counseling.”
And Dr. Damie an internist in Rhode Island, reflected on warming winters in his state:
“My physician colleagues used to treat two or three cases a month during tick season; now each of us sees 40 to 50 new cases during each tick season … Tick season used to be relegated to summer; it now spans spring and autumn.”
What’s the solution to this health crisis? Let’s hear from the doctors again:
“We believe the most important action we can take to protect our health is to accelerate the inevitable transition to clean renewable energy.”
Clean energy protects our health over the longer term by reducing the carbon pollution that is causing climate change. It also gives us immediate health benefits by reducing the building blocks of ozone smog, particle pollution, cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, and other harmful pollution. For example, the carbon-cutting Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has provided 13 northeast states with $5.7 billion in health benefits since 2009. Bumping solar energy's share of U.S. electricity generation from 1 percent in 2015 to 27 percent in 2050 could prevent up to 30,800 hospital admissions and 59,000 premature deaths.
So no, Mr. Mulvaney, climate spending is most definitely not a waste of money. It’s a critical investment in our health now, and in the health of future generations.