This op-ed was written by Elizabeth (Lisa) Del Buono. It originally ran in the Traverse City Record-Eagle:
Climate change is a public health emergency that is impacting Michiganders today. Time is running out to lower emissions if we want to ensure that the next generation enjoys the same quality of life that we have enjoyed.
As a health professional, I support Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s courage and insight to take a head-on approach to protecting the health of Michiganders. Her action to restructure the Department of Environmental Quality would help protect our water from toxic chemicals like PFAS and refocus the department on the Great Lakes and energy. She also committed to joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals. The Legislature’s rejection of the Governor’s efforts places the health of Michiganders at risk.
It is time to put aside our political differences and come together to take action to protect our health, air, and water.
Transitioning to clean, renewable energy will reduce dangerous pollution in our air and prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. and untold numbers of asthma attacks and doctors’ appointments. It would also protect the young and unborn children from fine particulate matter, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels that has been linked to an increased incidence of preterm deliveries and developmental delays.
In addition, a low carbon economy would minimize the health impacts of our changing climate. We recently experienced the second “polar vortex” since the beginning of the year, a condition exacerbated by the melting of the polar ice cap. Businesses and schools closed down as Michiganders across the state felt the challenges of navigating the extreme cold and hospital systems experienced the impacts of caring for those at risk. Even worse, the temperatures then warmed leading to freezing rain and ice. More frequent freeze-thaw cycles make our roads even more treacherous.
In the summer months, more frequent heat waves and poor air quality exacerbates asthma and puts seniors and children, especially young athletes, at risk from heatstroke. Parents who have witnessed their child struggling for air can testify to the need to transition to cleaner types of fuel and more walkable and bikeable cities. Warmer and longer summers mean increased pollen counts, longer allergy seasons, and more potent poison ivy. Similarly, we are exposed to disease carrying mosquitoes and ticks for a longer period of time, putting us at greater risk for West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease. Intense downpours have become common, (think Houghton on Father’s Day weekend last year). These downpours result in sewers overflowing into our rivers and lakes, exposing water-lovers to infection. Finally, many local crops including apples, cherries, wine and hops are more difficult to grow as the weather becomes less predictable.
The environmental and climate crisis is a public health emergency and the remedy is clear: Put aside partisan differences and support Governor Whitmer’s efforts to preserve “Pure Michigan” as a state in which we are excited to work, play, and raise healthy children.
Dr. Elizabeth (Lisa) Del Buono lives and practices medicine in Traverse City. She volunteers with the Grand Traverse Area Citizens’ Climate Lobby, co-leads the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Health Action Team, is a physician advocate for the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health and a member of Health Care without Harm’s Physician Network.