Warning: Climate Change Is Hazardous to Your Health
As 100-degree temperatures broke Washington, DC records on Tuesday, I was pleased to be at the White House Public Health and Climate Summit listening to Surgeon General Murthy tell the American people that climate disruption poses an extremely dangerous risk to Americans’ health. If this sounds familiar, it should. Fifty years ago Americans received a similar warning from then Surgeon General Terry, on the terrible health risks of smoking tobacco.
— Sierra Club (@sierraclub) June 24, 2015
With Surgeon General Terry’s warning, our country was made bluntly aware of the dangers of cigarettes and Tuesday, Surgeon General Murthy was just as direct about the severe health consequences of climate disruption. Climate disruption is fueled primarily by carbon pollution coming from fossil fuels and fossil fuel power plants contribute 40 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions. Therefore, it’s logical to think dirty fossil fuel burning power plants now deserve a bold-print warning label that lets Americans know of the dire consequences similar to a pack of cigarettes.
As climate policy director at Sierra Club, people often ask me if I still use my public health degree and today the Surgeon General answered that question for me by making it abundantly clear that good climate policy is good health policy. The reverse is also true: if we keep burning fossil fuels like we are today, we will destroy our health and the health of our children. This message connecting two important facets of good government is what attracted pillars of the American medical community to the summit including the American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It goes without saying that I was honored to be there with them and join them in celebrating the historical significance of Surgeon General Murthy’s words.
— Dr. Ali Khan (@UNMC_DrKhan) April 20, 2015
The event itself united health professionals, academics, the environmental community and other important stakeholders to discuss the important role the public health community has in communicating and preventing health-related climate impacts. Also this week, one of the most respected medical journals, the Lancet, released a report which found that by acting to stop climate disruption the world can save countless lives, reduce the spread of disease and ensure a secure food supply by moving to clean energy and creating a healthier future for people in every part of the world.
Also, Monday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis (CIRA) report finding that acting on climate change will prevent almost 60,000 premature deaths from poor air quality and 12,000 deaths from high temperatures in 49 major U.S. cities by 2100. And if that wasn’t enough, acting on climate will also save us a lot of money: $10-34 billion in electricity savings in 2050, $3.1 billion in avoided damages from sea-level rise in 2100, $110 billion in avoided damages from lost labor hours due to extreme temperatures in 2100 and $6.6-11 billion in avoided damages to agriculture in 2100.
However, despite all of this evidence and just days after the release of the Pope’s powerful encyclical saying that climate inaction is immoral, Congress has once again voted to block climate action. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2042, Rep. Whitfield’s Polluter Protection Act, and voted to block the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Also today, in the Senate, the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is holding a hearing on S. 1324, the Senate version of the Polluter Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Capito and the climate denier in chief, Senator James Inhofe, who hopes to move this legislation to the floor of the Senate in July.
Climate change deniers in Congress need to stop acting as pawns in industry’s game while the severe effects of climate disruption wreak havoc on the health of our families and our communities. Make no mistake, industry-funded scientists are simply giving excuses for members of Congress to oppose climate action just like they were used years ago to protect the tobacco industry. All this is happening while most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support taking action on global warming.
This is why the Surgeon General Murthy’s warning speech is so significant. Just as his distant predecessor initiated the push to stomp out the normalcy of cigarette smoking in American life, Surgeon General Murthy did the same today with our everyday use of coal, gasoline and natural gas. With his leadership, we can overcome the denier campaigns that attempt to twist and augment scientific fact, and take the necessary steps to protect our planet from climate disruption. When I left the cool air conditioning of the summit and walked back out into the 100-degree swelter of Washington, DC in summer, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that something is really being done to protect my kids and future generations from climate disruption.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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