My Turn: Keep up the fight for climate-smart policies

For the Monitor
Published: 12/1/2016 6:22:32 AM

Climate change is an urgent threat. That fact doesn’t change with President-elect Donald Trump in the White House. Unfortunately, action to fight climate change does change with a new administration. But it can’t be ignored.

Climate change is a public health issue. The Clean Power Plan, for example, is expected to prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 missed work and school days every year by 2030. It will produce an estimated $54 billion in public health and climate benefits per year by 2030, and it’s exactly the kind of sensible, flexible, effective climate solution we need.

Climate change is also an economic issue. Extreme weather events and sea-level rise fueled by climate change threaten the businesses and homes of our communities and has a dramatic impact on outdoor tourism, which provides $646 billion in economic benefit to the United States every year. Local governments are on the front lines of recovery after extreme weather events, straining local resources and costing taxpayers billions.

The majority of Americans understand these facts, and too many of them have experienced the devastating impacts of climate change in their communities. In fact, the majority of Americans support bold climate action and solutions like the Clean Power Plan – which sets limits on carbon pollution from power plants, a major driver of climate change.

But these lifesaving standards, and many others, are under attack by the Trump administration. Trump has appointed climate deniers to key positions of influence in his administration, and we should absolutely expect him, and his congressional allies, to keep their promise to roll back the Clean Power Plan and undermine the Clean Air Act.

This election did not give Trump a mandate to wage war on our public health and the environment. Rolling back vital public health safeguards and blocking further progress would go directly against the will of the American people. Two-thirds of Americans support the Clean Power Plan. That’s more than supported Donald Trump for president.

Make no mistake, if Donald Trump tries to carry out his dirty-energy agenda, he will encounter stiff opposition from millions of activists and concerned citizens. Instead, he should seize the opportunity to acknowledge the challenge that lies ahead, drive new bold initiatives that meet the scale of this urgent threat and ensure his policies are “climate smart.”

Doing so would be a shrewd political move and a recognition of which way the winds are blowing. The cost of renewable energy has dramatically decreased while support for action to address climate change has remained high. The number of conservative voters who believe climate change is occurring has nearly doubled in the past two years. And three out of four Americans – including roughly half of Republicans – support taking action.

All of this paints a clear picture: Americans don’t want our country’s energy policy to be dictated by some of the country’s biggest polluters; they want sensible safeguards that will keep our communities healthy and safe from pollution.

As President-elect Trump prepares to nominate key positions within his administration, he would do well to remember that Americans want forward-looking, science-based policies that consider the costs and consequences associated with climate change. He should work with Congress to advance the rapidly growing clean-energy industry, which is already creating good paying jobs for Americans and can produce many more. And he should build upon the solutions we already have in place – not tear them down in an attempt to appease dirty energy donors and other special interests aligned with the fossil fuel industry.

Despite all the rhetoric that Trump has spouted throughout his campaign, he cannot change the fact that clean energy is cheaper than ever, and he cannot change that public opinion strongly favors renewable energy sources over dirty fossil fuels. Climate action from the next Congress and the Trump administration can help protect our economy and our communities for generations to come. The election may be over, but the fight over our clean energy future is only beginning. We must demand action.

Here in New Hampshire, we have a history of bipartisanship on climate action. We need to build on this tradition and find ways to come together to protect our children and grandchildren from the devastating impacts of climate change.

Climate change impacts children differently than adults and is one of the greatest threats to children’s health. Children, primarily because of physiological and developmental factors, will disproportionately suffer from the health effects of climate change. Asthma is a troubling example of how climate change is already harming – and will continue to harm – our children. Despite our largely rural character, New Hampshire has high asthma rates. Nationally, 8.6 percent of children suffer from asthma, but in New Hampshire, 10.6 percent of our children have asthma. Children from low-income families and minority groups are at a higher risk of developing asthma than other groups and will disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change.

In 2013, direct medical costs associated with asthma were estimated at $167 million annually in New Hampshire. Of the $24 million in direct costs to children, an estimated $8 million was due to poor air quality. Costs associated with lost wages due to asthma care were estimated at $21 million annually in New Hampshire in 2013. Furthermore, there are approximately 6,000 emergency department or observation discharges due to asthma each year for New Hampshire residents.

Climate change stands to worsen this epidemic-scale health problem, because it will make smog, pollen season and heat waves worse. All of those things trigger asthma attacks.

In terms of solutions, New Hampshire is part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based regional program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a model for the rest of the nation because it works. The program has reduced climate pollution and strengthened New Hampshire’s clean-energy economy by requiring polluters to pay for their climate pollution. RGGI is a critical, health-based initiative for our children and future generations. We need to build and improve upon this program, not dismantle it.

As New Hampshire citizens, it is our job to stand up and demand action. Get in touch with your elected officials. Call them or tell them face-to-face that you are a person who cares about clean air and a safe climate. Ask them to stand up and protect our children’s health and future by supporting state and federal initiatives to reduce climate pollution and promote a shift to a clean energy economy.

(Becky Whitley is the New Hampshire field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, a special project of the Environmental Defense Fund. Moms Clean Air Force is a community of moms and dads united against air pollution – including the urgent crisis of our changing climate – to protect our children’s health.)

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