President Barack Obama made a direct link between climate change and health hazards during his weekly radio address Saturday, in which he announced a campaign that would fight for restrictions on U.S. power plant emissions.
In his speech, he noted that Americans who suffered from asthma and other respiratory illnesses would benefit from a reduction in carbon emissions and air pollution. “Often, these illnesses are aggravated by air pollution, pollution from the same sources that release carbon and contribute to climate change,” Obama said in the radio delivery. “And for the sake of all our kids, we’ve got to do more to reduce it.” He noted that about 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions came from power plants that had never been restricted before. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of the campaign, will soon reveal new regulations that would aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in power plants all over the U.S.
Creating more restrictions, and fighting climate change, could become one of the main goals of Obama’s second term in office, so it’s not hard to see his health hazards link as a sales pitch. But research has shown that air pollution can indeed have a negative impact on health. The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted that global warming and climate change has actually caused over 140,000 deaths since the 1970s, with many of the major diseases being diarrheal diseases, malnutrition, malaria and dengue. In addition, the WHO says that climate change “affects the social and environmental determinants of health — clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter,” and that “[r]educing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health.”
Obama claims that reductions in carbon emissions would help “vulnerable” populations like young children and older people — up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks could be prevented in just one year, he said. "We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water, but they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air," Obama said. "It’s not smart, it’s not safe, and it doesn’t make sense."
The burning of fossil fuels and the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has caused heat to be trapped in the lower part of the atmosphere, and though this may have a positive effect on some patterns — like fewer winter accidents or increased food production in some areas — the overall impact of climate change is negative, the WHO states.
“Now, special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy,” Obama said. “Let’s face it, that’s what they always say. They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business. It didn’t. Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically and our economy kept growing.”