The just released report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of profound dangers to human health if we continue on our current path of greenhouse gas emissions. To put it bluntly, the prognosis — without a prompt change in course — is very bad. We have about a decade to greatly accelerate our transition to clean energy. But while the time to act is short, we do have solutions at hand. I-1631 is an important and effective first step.
As physicians and health professionals, we know from the medical evidence, and from seeing patients in our everyday practices, that air pollution and climate change — human-caused climate change — hurt real people right now.
We also know, as this report so clearly lays out, that the longer we wait to act, the more fossil fuel we continue to burn, and the more carbon dioxide and other pollutants we pour into the air — the more the earth will warm, the more extreme the climate will become, the more air quality will worsen, and the more dire and widespread the impacts and harms on people will be.
The same fossil fuel combustion that is responsible for the dangerously rising levels of CO2, is also responsible for most of our other air pollutants; nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides, and especially PM2.5, the small particulate matter that gets deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream. We have years of evidence and clinical experience showing that burning fossil fuels has had significant, direct, and harmful impacts on heart disease, lung disease and other health problems.
Poorer populations and communities of color are exposed to higher levels of toxic air and numerous health studies show that, because of increased exposure to pollution, they tend to die younger and suffer more ill-health throughout their lives. That’s just as true in our state, where, in Seattle for example, largely due to localized pollution, residents of Georgetown, South Park, and Beacon Hill have a life expectancy eight years shorter than the city’s average.
To protect everyone’s health, we must stop using the atmosphere as an open sewer, dumping huge amounts of pollution right into the air that we, and our children, need to breath. By burning less fossil fuels and embracing a transition to cleaner energy — as I-1631 is designed to do — we will drive down harmful emissions, we will all experience enormous and immediate health benefits, and we will also realize huge health cost savings.
Time is not on our side, but we have the power to act now! Please vote Yes on 1631.
Ken Lans, MD, MBA