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Get Up, Stand Up for Climate Change and Clean Energy

Recently President Barack Obama gave a speech clearly outlining his vision for addressing climate change issues. He offered Americans an honest reflection on the growing dangers of unchecked pollution and a bold vision of action that requires all Americans to join together and protect our environment and public health.

As I listened to the speech, I realized that this discussion was once again about our ability to come together and overcome the entrenched powers in America that are more vested in protecting their profits than protecting us. The President put it bluntly when he stated, “so the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.  And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.”

As an Emergency Medicine physician in California, I have seen far too many patients and their families come to the emergency room with serious health complications due to air pollution. Pollution-related diseases such as asthma and other respiratory diseases hit Americans hard. Twenty five million Americans have asthma and 7 million of those are children.  The direct health care costs of asthma each year are approximately $50.1 billion and you can add another $5.9 billion lost with indirect costs such as missed work days.

Our urban and minority communities are the hardest hit by asthma. African-Americans are three times more likely to be hospitalized from asthma. African American women have the highest asthma mortality rate of all groups and African-American children have a 500% higher death rate from asthma. For Latinos, the numbers are similar and just as depressing. Hispanic children are 40% more likely to die from asthma compared to non-Hispanic Whites.

The President’s speech raised the issue of our inability over the past few years to work together and start to solve this issue.  He expressed that “climate change has become a partisan issue.” Political party divisions are the true reason behind our inability to take action.

There is some sign of hope, however,  that we may be turning the corner on the inability to bring Red and Blue together to solve this issue. This past April in Louisiana, residents successfully fought off an attempt by special interest to dismantle laws and programs that promote rooftop solar. Louisiana Public Services Commission members cited the several hundred calls they received supporting solar and voted to keep this essential tool as a result of direct community action. The community supported rooftop solar because it knows that solar panels on homes create energy without toxic emissions like NOX, SOX and particulates.

And it seems people of color may be leading this clean air revolution. Last week a new public opinion poll was released by the William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI). The poll showed dramatic support by Latinos in Southern California for rooftop solar, finding that 9-in-10 people consider “air pollution and the health problems that result from poor air quality” to be a serious problem. WCVI also found, for the first time ever in their polling, that “green” candidates have a competitive advantage over other candidates that ignore and oppose action on the environment.

It seems that the message we are hearing from Louisiana to California  is that people are truly concerned about the environment and our future.  People understand that this is an issue we must address head-on and have the courage to solve.  Elected officials who stand in the way of addressing these concerns will face tough re-election campaigns and are likely to feel the frustration of voters and lose.

As the President so eloquently stated, “Americans are not a people who look backwards; we’re a people who look forward. We’re not a people who fear what the future holds; we shape it. What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up, and speak up, and compel us to do what this moment demands.”

Mr. President, we hear you and we will stand up, speak up and join you in demanding real action to protect our environment and the health of all Americans.

By: Dr. Deonza Thymes, co-chair of Californians Against Utilities Stopping Solar Energy (CAUSE)

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