The early rains are upon us, but the fires may burn until October in Okanogan County. This record-breaking fire season highlights the effect of climate change on our air quality. It is a visible demonstration of negative health effects for Washington residents.
With climate change exacerbating droughts and wildfires, the imperative is clear. We must take action to curb the adverse health effects, which are especially damaging to kids and vulnerable people including our oldest citizens and people with chronic lung issues. This is why as a health care professional I support the recently released federal Clean Power Plan.
Air quality is directly linked to respiratory illness, such as asthma. According to the most recent report of the state Department of Health, asthma rates are higher in Washington than the national average, and they are increasing every year. Asthma is the third leading cause for hospitalization of children in the U.S.
Curbing emissions, as the power plan will achieve, will improve air quality and decrease hospitalizations and lost time from school for our children.
In addition to its effect on people with asthma, carbon-induced climate change will aggravate or create other risks to our health. These include heart disease and infectious risks, such as dengue fever, which has re-emerged in Texas and Florida.
Decreasing snowpack also threatens our water supply, a key element of public health. Extreme weather events and fires such as the 13 currently burning in our state have caused economic damage and strain state and federal budgets.
Curbing emissions on a state and national level can temper these impacts while addressing climate change.
At the federal level, the Clean Power Plan gives states the freedom to curb emissions. Gov. Jay Inslee has targeted emissions that come from out-of-state plants as one of the seven key areas where Washington can reduce emissions. Despite the planned closure of Washington’s only remaining coal-fired plants, Puget Sound Energy still receives about a third of its power from a Montana coal plant that is one of the largest carbon polluters in our region.
The Clean Power Plan would complement Gov. Inslee’s efforts by adding pressure of the EPA to clean up our air and make it safe for us to breathe again.
These are not unpopular measures. Nationwide polls have found that nearly 70 percent of Americans across parties support the Clean Power Plan’s measures to reduce carbon emissions from dirty power plants. Washington voters also strongly support state environmental protections, and how could we not, if doing otherwise would mean depriving our children of Washington’s unique and precious environment?
We are obligated to take action, now, before further time is lost.
Dr. Eddy Cates is a family practice physician in Lacey.