This was written by Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome:
Over spring break, my family and I discovered Luray Caverns in Shenandoah Valley, in the western part of the state of Virginia. The caverns lie between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. These underground caverns cover over 4 acres and are an amazing collection of rock formations called stalactites and stalagmites. During the first stop of the tour, my 7-year old daughter asked our knowledgeable tour guide aboutthe caverns formation. My daughter was amazed to learn the caverns originated with the help of carbon dioxide (CO2). As explained by the guide, the calcium carbonate in the caverns (a chemical typically found in rocks) released carbon dioxide 4 millions of years ago, and over time, accumulated to form the beautiful rocks. The message my daughter took home was simple: under surface level CO2 is responsible for forming one of America’s most beautiful landmarks. What she did not know was that the above ground story on CO2 is remarkably different — the release of carbon dioxide contributes to formations that cause climate change.
Last month, a diverse group of international experts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations, released the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), synthesizing the most recent data and research on climate change and the role CO2 plays as a leading contributing factor. Amidst the dozens of chapters, facts and figures that grace the pages of the report, the gist of the report that I find important to convey to my family, is that we, as a global community, have a lot of work to do!
So, what can we do?
3 THINGS WE CAN DO TO REDUCE CARBON RIGHT NOW
1. Reduce our emissions of carbon, methane, and other co-pollutants.
While our personal efforts to reduce our carbon footprint (i.e. minimizing our driving, eating less meat and foods closer to the earth, recycling, minimizing our energy use at home) will definitely make an impact in reducing carbon pollution, we must look at the biggest sources of carbon dioxide: power plants that burn coal. Federal regulations to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide from these facilities will be out for public comments in June. I would encourage you to make an effort to raise your voice. Another greenhouse gas that is equally important is methane (CH4), which contributes to climate change — methane comes mostly from landfills and livestock. Additionally, there are other harmful pollutants that are emitted when fossil fuels are burned. We must look at the bigger picture of reducing as MANY pollutants as possible that impact our children’s health.
2. Ready our public health workforce.
Extreme weather not only causes physical destruction to our homes, schools and other important infrastructures (roads, bridges, etc.), it also impacts the health of our most at-risk populations. We must make sure that our doctors, nurses, public health educators, outreach professionals and emergency preparedness personnel are equipped to provide the best protection and plans for communities across the United States. Asthma, vector-borne diseases, food insecurity and hampered water quality (or drought) are just a few of the public health issues that communities will have to address. As mothers, and concerned citizens, I encourage you to reach out to your local health department to understand what plans exist for tackling potential climate related impacts in your area, and how you can assist and spread the word in emergency situations.
3. Recognize those that are most at risk.
The IPCC report goes on to describe several areas of risk that scientists believe will span various sectors and regions. The risks include: ill-health and disrupted livelihoods for large urban populations, particularly those living in low-lying coastal zones, in rural areas impacted by insufficient access to drinking water, and in locations prone to extreme weather events that can cripple our infrastructure. We must encourage our localities and state agencies to target the communities that will be most impacted, particularly minority and low-income communities that already suffer many environmental injustices. Such injustices are due to the inundation of pollution sources in these communities. Typically, the communities that are most ‘polluted upon,’ do not possess the infrastructure or resources for resilience. The ‘informal infrastructures’ of many of our communities – block clubs, community centers, street captain programs – are sometimes the most useful networks to share vital information during emergencies, as well as for general education and outreach. It is important to insure such resources (e.g. President Obama’s resilience fund) ‘trickle down’ to those who really need it.
As a mom, part of the legacy I want to leave my children is a love for people, a love for justice…and an appreciation of our natural world — which is what my daughter’s discovered in our visit to the Luray caverns. Throughout the tour of the caverns, our guide reminded several of the children not to touch the formations because the oil, dirt and chemicals on their hands could change the chemical reactions of the beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. These reactions would ‘interfere with the natural growing process.’ As I stare into the eyes of my daughters, I want a to share the legacy of building beautiful caverns together right now.
Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome is a Federal Policy Analyst for WE ACT for Environmental Justice (WE ACT) staffing their Washington, DC Legislative office. In this capacity, she engages in advocacy and education on Capitol Hill, while monitoring Administrative actions, to ensure an environmental justice perspective is included in legislative and regulatory conversations on a variety of environmental issues. Beyond federal policy, Jalonne conducts research with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health, focused on the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations and local level adaptation. As a result of her doctoral work, she had the opportunity to engage in community based outreach and shape local policy to help address health impacts on the elderly. Jalonne is currently an adjunct professor at Kettering University (Flint, Michigan), and a Professorial Lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. As part of her personal mission to increase environmental awareness and stewardship, she and her husband founded EGE2(Empowering a Green Environment and Economy), L.L.C, in 2009 to provide environmental education and consulting services. Outside of work, Jalonne is a proud mother of 2.