OPINION: A vote for climate is a vote for health

The September 16th news roundup by Brian Allnutt published in Planet Detroit awakened a profound sense of urgency in me about the need to elect policymakers who will enact legislation that will reduce heat-trapping emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst climate impacts for our children and others who suffer disproportionately from fossil fuel pollution. 

As summarized by this article, Detroit has poor air quality and a very high incidence of asthma. We need to decrease our contribution to air pollution to see change.

As a science teacher turned pediatrician-in-training, it is clear that our children are creative, smart and capable. They are our future, our hope! And yet precious few spend significant time outdoors in nature exploring and playing. For some communities, clean air and green space to walk, bike, and play are unavailable. 

As a clinician, I see the effects of our changing climate on our kid’s health, with longer allergy seasons, more asthma exacerbations, and worsening mental health crises, to name a few.

Medical professionals recognize that the current trends in our climate are associated with an increased incidence of health emergencies. We already see worsening air quality in Michigan, increasing temperatures, longer pollen, tick and mosquito seasons, and more flooding events. Unfortunately, despite their lower carbon footprint, the underserved population tends to be disproportionately affected. 

In the fall of 2021, editors from over 200 prestigious medical journals warned that not addressing the climate crisis would be catastrophic for human health. Fortunately, much of what we do to address the climate, whether walking or biking to work or eating less meat, is also good for our health. 

It is well established that the burning of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor not only to climate change but also to air pollution. Making matters worse, rising temperatures tend to make air quality worse.

Poor air quality is associated with exacerbation of lung diseases such as asthma, more frequent premature births, and infants with low birth weight. The good news is that by transitioning to clean forms of energy and electrifying our transportation fleet, we can not only address climate change, but also clean up the air and improve health right away!

Fortunately, this year Congress has taken initial substantive steps in addressing the crisis by passing the Inflation Reduction Act. While this bill reduces climate-warming gas emissions, improves air quality, and advances environmental justice to some degree, much more needs to be done if we wish to improve air quality in Detroit and not be labeled an “Asthma capital.”

That is why the outcome of the midterm elections is critical. We need to elect policy-makers at all levels of government who will build on the progress made this year and keep climate, health, and equity front and center when making decisions!

Fortunately, you can be part of the solution by making a plan to vote! Make sure you are registered, and then explore your candidate’s views on climate change by asking them and/or using credible sources, like Vote411. 

It is up to us to bring climate, health and equity to the forefront of the debate. For the sake of our children, remember that a vote for climate is a vote for health!


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