President Obama visited Florida this week to highlight the impact of climate change on one of our most vulnerable natural resources, the precious Everglades.
There’s another climate impact that deserves equal attention. It’s the impact on our most vulnerable human resource, the tens of thousands of low-income Floridians whose health and economic livelihood are particularly at risk from changes in the climate.
The Florida State Medical Association, the state society of the National Medical Association, is concerned about this because too many of our physicians see the harmful effects of carbon pollution and climate change on our patients’ health.
According to a survey conducted last year by George Mason University and the National Medical Association — the leading voice for African-American physicians in the United States — 88 percent of doctors said that climate change is relevant to patient care and 61 percent say that climate change is already having moderate to severe effects on their patients.
More than 2.6 million Florida children and adults had a history of asthma, and approximately 1.6 million had current asthma in 2012, a state report shows. Worsening air quality because of climate change is making it harder for them to breathe. A patient’s coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing can lead to missed school and work days, sports restrictions, doctor’s visits, ER visits and hospital admissions.
Despite having a lower carbon footprint, African Americans are disproportionately affected by climate change. They are more likely to live within close proximity to waste dumps and in counties that violate federal air-pollution standards, and less likely to be protected and informed about these risks. This sets the stage for disasters related to health disparities and environmental and economic injustices.
A new report, “Bridging the Clean Energy Divide,” takes note of these impacts, but also highlights the fact that low-income Americans, including those in Florida, stand to reap tremendous benefits from tackling climate change and its main driver, carbon pollution, released by power plants. We limit mercury and arsenic from these plants, but not carbon pollution.
Reducing carbon pollution and investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency provides major health and economic benefits to low-and-fixed income people. The lower electric bills, lower healthcare costs, increase opportunities in clean energy jobs will result in better health and more disposable income.
Fighting climate change isn’t just about protecting our precious environmental legacy in such places as the Everglades. It’s also about protecting our equally precious health and well-being. Floridians understand this and many embrace clean energy. A bipartisan poll released by the Natural Resources Defense Council this year showed that 67 percent of Floridians support making new investments in clean energy and renewable power from the wind and sun. Even more, 74 percent, support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to put the first limits on power plant carbon pollution.
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan offers Florida’s elected officials an opportunity to work together to combat climate change and improve our health. We cannot wait any longer. Now is the time for Florida’s leaders to implement these critical new safeguards.
The Florida State Medical Association urges our state government to step up and craft a strong blueprint for Florida to implement the Clean Power Plan.
Let’s use less energy and make more clean energy. Let’s reduce carbon pollution and improve our health. Let’s protect our most vulnerable and improve our economy.
We know what we have to do. Now let’s take our future into our own hands. Simply put, warmer temperatures are affecting our climate, and our health is suffering.
Dr. Cheryl L. Holder is president of the Florida State Medical Association. She practices internal medicine and teaches at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.