The climate crisis is a health crisis

This guest blog, written by Dr. Neha Pathak, originally ran on the Hill on September 7, 2021.

Guest Blog | September 13, 2021 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

This guest blog, written by Dr. Neha Pathak, originally ran on the Hill on September 7, 2021. Dr. Neha Pathak is a physician and medical writer, who reports on the health impacts of climate change. She is also a public voices fellow on the climate crisis with The OpEd Project and The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

The climate crisis is a health crisis

The U.S. House recently passed infrastructure legislation along with a budget resolution that could be its “strongest-ever climate bill,” with essential provisions like the Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP) that can realistically get us to 80 percent clean energy by 2030.

But more to the point, if key plans to revolutionize our energy, transportation and agricultural sectors and dramatically reduce carbon emissions are included in the final budget reconciliation package, Congress will pass more than climate and infrastructure bills — they will protect American families with bold and crucial health bills.

The deadly heat of this oppressive summer alone has made it clear — the climate crisis is a health crisis. Dire forecasts from the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report point to even greater increases in heat and humidity. If we don’t aggressively curtail our use of dirty fossil fuels, the world will continue to get hotter, faster — with more extremely hot days that will last for longer stretches of time.

Across the country, doctors are treating the heat impacts of climate change. This is not our future, this is our now.

During the first of multiple record-breaking heatwaves in Portland, Ore. emergency responders found people comatose on streets, in bushes — some without any identification. Nurses were forced to use their patient’s lifeless fingers to unlock any cellphones with fingerprint ID to identify these unnamed people — then inform family that their loved ones were in the hospital, on a breathing machine recovering from heatstroke.

Heatstroke is too simple a word to accurately describe what happens when we encounter temperatures beyond our limits, temperatures that we cannot adapt to: our nerves stop communicating, our proteins unfold and our cells disintegrate.

In essence, on a cellular level, we melt.

A fearful prospect? Certainly. But the recent IPCC report also makes it clear that there are actions that we can take, if not to reverse the irreversible, to keep temperature rise from getting much worse. The good news is that Congress is finally on the cusp of moving forward with historic legislation that will protect our lives and our livelihoods.

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