It's Time to Address Climate Change—Our Health Depends on It

You may have heard that climate change will put people's health at risk for years to come. But did you know that cutting climate change pollution can protect human health immediately?

We're already seeing lung health impacts climate change creates today: warmer temperatures lead to worsened air pollution, more frequent and severe heat waves, longer wildfire seasons and severe drought conditions, all of which can harm lung health. Cutting the pollution that causes climate change, including carbon pollution from power plants, methane pollution and other warming gases, will help prevent more severe health impacts of climate change predicted for the future.

Climate change threatens the health of millions of people. While everyone is at risk for the harms of climate change and air pollution, those most at risk include infants, children, older adults, and those with lung disease (such as asthma and COPD), cardiovascular disease or diabetes. They are the ones who must rush to the emergency room when they cannot breathe because of worsened ozone pollution during a heat wave, or when smoke blows into their yard from wildfires that may be burning hundreds of miles away.

"When I had COPD, an [unhealthy air] action day was potentially disastrous. I stayed indoors and in air-conditioning. If I had to go outside, I would wear a mask. For those of us with COPD, it feels like someone has us around the throat. But pollution affects everyone," says clean air advocate Daniel Dolan-Laughlin.

Reducing the pollution that causes climate change is crucial to preventing more unhealthy air days in the future. But here's the great news: limiting carbon and methane pollution will also reduce other dangerous pollution at the same time.

How? Polluting facilities, like power plants, can reduce their carbon emissions by switching to cleaner fuel or becoming more efficient. And that means they'll emit fewer pollutants like particulate matter and ozone pollution that can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death. Those reductions happen as soon as the cleaner fuel or other steps to reduce emissions are put in place.

Fortunately, our nation is taking steps to clean up carbon pollution from power plants under the first-ever federal safeguard, known as the Clean Power Plan. Estimates of the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan show that it will not only help address the problem of climate change, but it will also remove dangerous pollution from the air we breathe. Cutting that pollution saves lives, preventing up to 3,600 premature deaths in 2030, as well as preventing 90,000 asthma attacks and avoiding 300,000 days missed at work and school.

You may have read in the news recently about the U.S. Supreme Court getting involved with the Clean Power Plan. The Court issued a "stay" on the rule, which means that the federal role in the plan is limited until the legal challenges against it are resolved. The good news is that, in the meantime, states across the country can move forward with putting together plans to limit carbon pollution from their power plants, ensuring that they'll be ready to protect their citizens' health when the Clean Power Plan goes back into effect.

Meanwhile, the world is taking action, too. Recently, world leaders met to put together a plan to address climate change. What resulted is the Paris Agreement, a landmark deal that establishes a commitment by nearly 200 countries—including the United States—to reduce carbon pollution and other pollutants that drive climate change.

The Clean Power Plan will put our nation on the right path, but there is still much we must do to combat climate change. For example, the American Lung Association, along with other health and medical organizations as well as health professionals from all 50 states, urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize strong limits on methane pollution from new oil and gas sources—and to set strong limits on methane from existing oil and gas sector sources, too.

You can join this fight! Learn more about steps to fighting climate change and see how you can help.

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Related Topic: Healthy Air

  • Lyndsay Moseley Alexander
    Assistant Vice President and Director of the Healthy Air Campaign, National Policy and Advocacy
    American Lung Association
    Lyndsay Moseley Alexander is Assistant Vice President and Director of the American Lung Association’s Healthy Air Campaign, a national campaign to win strong outdoor air pollution safeguards to protect all Americans from the dangers of breathing air pollution.

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