By Briana Vannozzi
Health experts say you only need to look at the spike in childhood asthma hospitalizations in New Jersey to see the serious effects climate change is having on our health.
“We see it in our health care institutions, we see it when people show up with asthma or lead problem in water, we see the real impact on citizens,” said New Jersey Hospital Association President and CEO Betsy Ryan.
The topic is of utmost concern to environmental and health leaders as President Trump continues to sign executive orders rolling back Obama era environmental policies. Most recently, a repeal of the Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gases. Today, Congressman Frank Pallone gathered stakeholders for a roundtable chat in New Brunswick.
“Basically what the Clean Power Plan does is it reduces the amount of greenhouse gases, particulate matter, ozone if you will, that comes from mostly coal fired power plants and if that’s repealed, which is what his executive order seeks to do, then we’re going to have worse incidents, you know, the climate will get warmer, there will be more severe weather conditions,” Pallone said.
The Clean Power Plan is the main way states are meeting the demands of the Paris Agreement, which also hangs in limbo. The American Academy of Pediatrics says vulnerable populations, like children, suffer most from climate effects.
“Hotter climates, children having a tough time in terms of having heat exhaustion and getting exhausted. We’re seeing younger infants actually suffering from that too and suffering from heat exhaustion. There’s secondary effects because of all the climate changes. There’s changes and shifts in the pollen — increased allergy season, which will rise to asthma attacks which is usually a big morbidity that we see in our children as well,” said Dr. Shilpa Pai, with the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Right now in the state we have close to 200,000 kids that have asthma and close to 800,000 total members — elderly, adults and kids — that suffer from asthma. So just kind of doing the math, that’s almost 10 percent of the state population and it affects everywhere — nearly every county according to the American Lung Association fails on air quality and that spikes in the summer time,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
“Amid Trump’s sense that environmental regulations are too far reaching, the president favors policies that take advantage of the nation’s natural resources — like coal production and fossil fuels.
“Of all the things that the president is doing that I don’t like, this one has the most immediate and lasting negative impact,” Pallone said.
Pallone points out that unlike the ACA repeal, which never gained approval, executive orders have real power of becoming action.
“Just the word climate change itself sounds sort of benign and we need to be out there I think a lot stronger in our messaging that it’s not climate change. It’s devastating weather and sea level rise that is going to be destroying parts of this country and creating health hazards and everything else,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.
These roundtables are meant to be informative and exploratory in nature, though the stakeholders in this room agree at least one action item needs immediate attention to get the public more engaged — find ways to make the effects of climate change more personal.