Blog Global Health Center

The importance of protecting our climate progress

Written by Taylor Hale, Campaign Organizer with Environment Missouri for the Defending Climate Progress Campaign

Climate change is the biggest issue of our time. 2016 was the hottest year on record and the third consecutive year to set a new temperature high.

In the Unites States, the burning of fossil fuels – oil, coal, and gas – is the leading contributor to global warming. Specifically, transportation is the largest source of carbon emission, followed closely by pollution from the electricity sector.

Global warming is real and it is being caused by human activity. It is a colossal threat to public health and safety.

The effects of our changing climate go beyond warmer days. Increased temperatures, particularly in summer months, lead to longer and more intense heatwaves that leave vulnerable populations at risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and deadly heat stroke. Airborne allergens and pollution also increase with global warming, worsening allergy and asthma conditions.

This is of note in St. Louis where asthma is the fourth leading cause of death and children’s asthma rates are twice the national average. Other health effects linked with global warming include increased chemical runoff into drinking water due to extreme precipitation and the spread of disease vectors with warmer temperatures. The St. Louis metro area is one of the places in the U.S. at highest risk for Zika infection.

Extreme weather events are also on the rise with global warming. In 2015, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found climate change was a factor in 24 of  the 30 strange weather events that occurred that year. These increased instances of extreme weather put the safety of people caught in them at risk and create long lasting damage. Missouri is still recovering from the severe flooding over a year ago. In total, extreme weather and climate disasters caused 297 deaths and $53.5 billion in economic damage in the United States in 2016.   all this tends to disproportionately affect lower-income communities, magnifying the impact it has.

Global warming is putting the entire world at risk. In Missouri and across the country it is endangering the health and well being of Americans. This alone should propel global warming to forefront of our nation’s agenda. We need to work aggressively to cut dangerous pollutants and get to virtually zero emissions by 2050 by moving towards 100% renewable energy and 100% carbon free transpiration. That is the only way to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change and protect our health and safety.

Yet, at this critical time, our nation is moving backwards on all the progress we have made. President Trump’s recent executive order to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the single largest step the US has taken to limit climate change, is a prime example of the wrong direction his administration is headed. We have already seen rollbacks to clean car standards, the proposed gutting of EPA funding, and the green-lighting of pipelines. More of the same is sure to come. President Trump has made clear his intent to undo the protections and progress we have made on fighting climate change.

That is why Environment Missouri is working to defend our climate progress. People care about climate action and experts are deeply concerned about the effects of this warming on public health. It is necessary to unite and highlight these voices into one force. To call on our politicians to be strong leaders on climate in a time where we desperately need more.

For the US to make strides in mitigating climate change we need to first defend the progress we have already made. Politicians, such as Missouri’s Senator Claire McCaskill, are key to creating a strong defense.  Senator McCaskill has demonstrated that she cares about the environment and fighting global warming. She opposed Scott Pruitt for EPA administrator because, Administrator Pruitt poses dangers to public health through his anti-regulation agenda. Over next couple of years there will be many more opportunities for Senator McCaskill to stand up for our climate.  We need to make sure she does.

Fifty-eight doctors and health professionals in Missouri have already signed a letter to Senator McCaskill asking her to vote against rollbacks to our bedrock environmental policies. Three hundred Missourians have signed petition with the same message.

The White House’s current disposition paints a grim picture for our environmental future. It also leaves lots of room for progress. We have already made strides, and Missouri’s leaders are paying an increasing amount of attention. But, we still have a lot of work ahead.

All Missourians who care about our environment, our public health, and the future of our planet need to make sure their voices are being heard during this time. Climate change is affecting everyone. Farmers, families, doctors, and citizens are seeing its negative impacts day after day. Solving this problem is something we all can and should get behind. Politicians need to hear our stories and our opinions to defend our environmental protections. Otherwise, we will keep moving backwards and climate change will keep racing forwards.

To find out more about the work Environment Missouri is doing, check out their website.