Health & Safety Drive Voters to Cut Carbon

 baseball sized hail from Omaha in June

Why are people worried about climate change? Because changes in our climate are destroying homes and livelihoods, and making people sick.


Yesterday, June 03, 2014, baseball sized hail crashed through windows at up to 100 miles per hour in Omaha, accompanied by floods, tornadoes and more hail. It has a dramatic, apocalyptic feel to it, and it scares us. The big events – Sandy, Katrina – occupy the news cycles, but these smaller events dominate minds and hearts: Chicago had the worst winter in 140 years, Atlanta saw snow, the Central Valley in California has dried up and may not recover for years, if ever.

window smashed by falling hail

As President, if Obama wasn’t leading a recalcitrant congress, he would be defying the wishes of the 53% of us who like the 30% reduction in carbon. Independents are even more committed by 59% to 29%, according to a new Public Policy Poll. While the number of inches that oceans will rise is in debate, the possibility that New York will be underwater in 2050 is enough to turn 4.3 million voters into believers.

Beyond that, changing weather patterns are affecting how insurance companies are pricing risk, how corporations are making plans for their future and that of their supply chains, and shareholders are asking the big question: what are you doing to reduce the risk from climate change? As if that is not enough, added to the changes in our physical world there are serious threats to our health.


Smog in Los Angeles, 2013Intuitively, it ‘feels’ like carbon in the atmosphere impairs health. Most of us have seen yellow skies and soot covered buildings, or lived through a day when the media suggests we stay inside. Too many of us have friends and relatives with lung or other cancers related to air quality, or children with asthma.

Scientifically, air pollution is a myriad of components, including particles, nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur oxides (SOx), ozone (O3), mercury, and hydrocarbons that interact in a variety of ways. They are affected by wind, temperature and other climate related events, which makes predicting how pollution will affect a given person or community very difficult.

However, there are studies confirming what we already believe. A study from Susan Rice, PhD, sponsored by EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) examined the health effects to populations that have been exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). She examined both exposure to high doses, and long term exposure to lesser amounts.

“CO2 has a continuum of effects that range from physiologic (e.g., ventilatory stimulation) to toxic (e.g., cardiac arrhythmias and seizures), anesthetic (significantly depressed CNS activity), and lethal (severe acidosis and anoxia).”

What this means to the layperson is coughing, asthma, seizures, loss of feeling and kidney failure leading to death. That’s from high doses. For long term exposure to lower doses, she cites ‘lung dead space’ where gas exchange does not occur, reducing oxygen in the blood; elevated blood pressure; and slightly decreased bone formation and increased bone resorption, where bone breaks down and is reabsorbed into the blood.

The most alarming results of her study is that carbon pollution is most likely to affect children and the elderly, and to have long-term, undiagnosed problems for the healthy, leading to increased risk as they age.

Since we are living longer, quality of life has become increasingly important for the health industry, insurance companies and people.

Taking a different approach, Marc Jakobsen at Stanford University, studied the effects of rising temperatures on air quality using a computer model to isolate various components. 

He concluded that each increase of 1 degree Celsius caused by carbon dioxide results in air pollution that would lead annually to about a thousand additional deaths and many more cases of respiratory illness and asthma in the United States. He goes on to say that "This is a cause and effect relationship, not just a correlation.”

He found that higher temperatures due to carbon dioxide increased the water vapor which in turn increased the chemical rate of ozone production in urban areas. Ozone is an extremely corrosive gas, eroding rubber and statues, and even creating cracks in tires. “So you can imagine what it does to your lungs in high enough concentrations." He added.

As for cost, the EPA estimates that for every $1 invested, Americans would reap $7 in health benefits, while avoiding up to 6,000 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks.


For some, the problems of the energy industry seem remote. Looking at energy bills can give pain – or not – but people are not likely to make their energy bills the single most important issue when going to the polls. That health is in jeopardy, and the sense – however unjust – that industry is to blame, is not just motivating, it may be decisive.