Public Health & Climate Change

Each year between 2030 and 2050, nearly 250,000 of the world’s people will die because of the health effects of climate change. That sobering estimate comes from the World Health Organization.

After citing the Zika virus and how climate change is increasing its reach, The L.A. Times’ Soumya Karlamangla wrote February 23: “The changing climate will not only bring new diseases, experts say, but also will threaten the water supply, worsen air quality and cardiovascular disease and cause deaths from extreme heat.”

She proceeded to focus on her local readership: “By 2050, the Los Angeles area is expected to warm by 5 degrees on average. Higher temperatures will create more smog, leading to more asthma and cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks. Water quality will also decline, experts say, because as water evaporates, the concentration of pollutants in the water becomes greater.

“Angelenos will also suffer through more extreme heat, which already accounts for more deaths annually nationwide than flood, storms and lightning combined.

“When it comes to climate change, ‘I look at health effects as the chief impact,’ said Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of Climate Resolve, a Los Angeles nonprofit focused on adapting to climate change.”

Two days before the L.A. Times story, Justin Gillis of The New York Times explained how scientists believe that climate change is worsening the Zika epidemic.

After you read stories like these, it is mighty hard to listen to politicians who vehemently insist that putting a price on carbon will throw the U.S. economy into a nosedive. Can we afford to have so many Americans suffer from asthma, heart attacks, and other health problems? What’s more expensive: a 30-cent gas tax or caring for all the people whose health will suffer due to CO2 emissions? As drinking water supplies become more polluted, how much will it cost to clean that water?

These politicians need to pay attention to the growing number of business leaders and economists who are doing the math and concluding that we MUST put a price on carbon. That’s also the view of Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, who said last October, “It is just the right moment to introduce carbon taxes.”

The United States needs Congress to play a leadership role. Once the heat of this year’s elections has subsided, our elected leaders should take a hard look at a revenue-neutral carbon fee. Enacting such a fee would pay off in many ways, including better health for the American people.