As we enter a new administration and era of Barack Obama’s governance, it is time we recognize and correct the problems with our current energy and environmental policies. What I wish to focus on however, is a little-known effect of our energy attitudes of the past, which had much less regard for not only the environmental impact, but also the human impact being wagered. What needs to be brought to light are the harmful health effects being caused by fossil fuel burning and chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) release. What will be clear then is not only are we threatening the future of our planet and sustainability of resources, but the human health condition has suffered because of our environmental policies.
The burning of fossil fuel and related emissions has long been suspected to threaten respiratory health. It should be no surprise then that asthma rates are markedly higher in known high-pollution areas such as Los Angeles and surrounding area. Skin cancer rates in places like South Africa and Australia are similarly high due to depleted ozone in the atmosphere, an effect of CFC release.
There is another level of consequences. Industries which harm our environment, such as oil refineries and coal plants, are among the most hazardous working conditions. Asbestos and benzene are used extensively in these industries in older piping and fixtures. In recent years there has been a rise of the asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma in oil refinery workers, largely due to occupational exposures to asbestos.
Despite campaign promises to lower carbon dioxide emissions, the prior administration ignored global warming initiatives. When President George W. Bush ordered military operations in Iraq it became clear that securing access to oil had become a national security concern. This act solidified the Bush presidency’s legacy with regards to foreign fuel and the same old attitudes towards fossil fuel production. Rather than invest some of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war in Iraq into the development of alternative energy solutions, we simply decided to fight a war for a rapidly dwindling resource. President Obama’s continued support of ending the war in Iraq and much more comprehensive investment in alternative fuels would seem to suggest a shift in our paradigm.
These are clear cause and effect examples of how our environmental attitudes and policies are harming us and our health. The next phase of our energy and environmental policies/ legislation needs to account for these facts. Renewable energy sources will eliminate a dependence on dirty (and unsafe) industries like oil and petroleum processing. We must push for these because soon we need to realize that we’re not only threatening the planet of our children and posterity, but also the health of her inhabitants today.
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center