Dirty energy takes toll on public health

Susan Glickman | May 16, 2014 | Climate Change, Energy Policy, Solar

This post was originally printed in the Orlando Sentinel on May 16 and can be viewed here.

Last week, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released the congressionally-mandated National Climate Assessment. The report, a three-year effort by over 300 experts, came to a stark conclusion — climate change “is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways,” including more frequent and/or intense extreme weather events, more acidic oceans, and rising sea levels.

As for what’s behind all this, the report found “unambiguous” evidence that human activities — the burning of fossil fuels, the clearing of forests — are the cause.

Florida is one of the places in America most at risk from the impacts of climate change. According to the NCA, Florida is “exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, and decreased water availability” caused by climate change.

In addition, the report identifies Miami and Tampa as two of the cities in America most vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding, loss of cropland, more damaging hurricanes, and other adverse impacts of climate change. In fact, the report notes: “Even today, residents in some areas such as Miami Beach are experiencing seawater flooding their streets.” In other words, this is not a problem for the far-off future; it’s one that’s already impacting us today.

A recent New York Times article — in which U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush refused even to be interviewed — brought the severity of the problem home.

The big question remains: What are we going to do about this situation?

For starters, we must stop listening to those who minimize or even deny the climate change related threats we face. That includes groups, such as the Pacific Research Institute, whose funders have included major fossil fuel interest ExxonMobil.

These groups actually argue that we should increase our consumption of fossil fuel resources. They falsely claim doing so will make our economy stronger and more competitive. These claims ignore fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change and extreme weather events — for example, flooding on sunny days in Miami and landslides in the Panhandle.

Pollution from burning fossil fuels harms public health, especially for kids and seniors. Asthma costs our nation $56 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and fossil fuel pollution worsens the rate of asthma attacks. Every year from asthma alone there are nearly half a million hospitalizations, 2 million E.R. visits, and 9 million visits to the doctor.

There is good news, however. Next month, the Environmental Protection Agency will release standards for limiting carbon pollution from coal-burning power plants. Despite efforts to derail the standards by groups funded by the fossil fuel industry, the EPA is moving ahead and will work with states to create plans to limit power plant pollution. To date though, just as Gov. Scott has remained silent on climate change and its impact on our communities and businesses, he’s said nothing about what he will do to ensure Florida meets the EPA standards and holds utilities accountable.

There is a great upside potential if we act decisively on climate change now and tremendous downside potential if we don’t. Florida gets 60 times more power from burning coal than from solar energy. We send more than a billion dollars out-of-state annually to buy dirty coal. We could be investing that money right here installing solar panels and creating good home-grown jobs that can’t be outsourced. As the Sunshine State with over 300 days of sun a year, we can create jobs promoting clean, renewable solar energy. Instead, we dropped from 12th to 18th in new installed solar systems according the Solar Energy Industries Association.

It’s time we limit carbon pollution, put a clean power plan in place that helps our homes and businesses be more energy efficient, and invest in clean solar power to create more jobs in Florida.


Susan Glickman
This blog was written by a former staff member of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
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