GUEST COLUMN: Act on climate change to safeguard public health

Sea level rise, record high temperatures, weather disasters, and severe wildfires seasons should be a warning to us all: Climate change is here, and it is causing a public health emergency.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jason Crow hosted a town hall where speakers highlighted climate change and its health implications. In Colorado, climate change has resulted in extreme heat, smoky skies and poor air quality. These changes negatively impact everyone’s health, especially vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and the chronically ill.

June 2019 was the hottest June on record, and this past July was the hottest month ever recorded. Death rates and emergency room admissions, especially for children and the elderly, spike during heat waves due to heat stroke, as well as complications with cardiovascular disease, kidney and respiratory conditions.

The summer of 2018 sticks in many Coloradans’ minds. It was a hot, dry summer clouded by smoke from dozens of severe wildfires burning across the state. Hotter temperatures and drier conditions — caused by global warming — yield longer stronger wildfires. Wildfire smoke contains harmful compounds like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. It directly impairs air quality, which affects our quality of life and our ability to enjoy the outdoor activities that are so important to Coloradans.

Increased levels of ozone pollution and particulate matter also degrade air quality. Ground level ozone, better known as smog, worsens with warming temperatures. Dirty air threatens the thousands of people in our state suffering from asthma, and contributes to cardiovascular disease and other respiratory conditions. Exposure to dirty air can even result in premature death.

We need ambitious action on climate change in order to protect public health.

Fortunately, leaders in Colorado have demonstrated a commitment to climate action. Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, and the Platte River Power Authority made commitments to carbon-free energy, and the state legislature passed landmark bills aimed at slashing carbon pollution.

Of course, in order to really tackle climate change, our federal leaders must act as well. We need strong climate policies at the national level, but the Trump administration has rolled back countless climate policies that protect clean air and public health.

Last May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submitted a proposal to roll back the Clean Car Standards. These standards would have reduced global warming emissions by 6 million tons, and reduced smog pollution. In May of this year, the administration rolled back the Clean Power Plan, which would have restricted greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants,  encouraged clean energy adoption and drastically improved air quality. According to the EPA’s own analysis, it could prevent as many as 1,500 premature deaths each year by 2030.

It’s clear that climate leadership is absent in the White House, which makes it all the more important that the Colorado Congressional Delegation confront climate change head on. Congressman Crow is doing just that. His climate town hall and his support of climate legislation including H.R. 9, the Climate Action Now Act, demonstrate the type of climate leadership we desperately need.

We hope that Rep. Crow continues to pursue ambitious federal climate policy in order to protect air quality, and the health and well being of all Coloradans.

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Emily Struzenberg is the Climate Organizer with Environment Colorado, a statewide citizen based group working to protect clean air, clean water and open space. Kathy Reiner is a fellow with Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments an organization that promotes healthy people and environments by educating and leading the nursing profession, advancing research, incorporating evidence-based practice, and influencing policy. She was a school nurse for 22 years in Congressman Crow’s district.