During the Republican presidential candidate debate on Monday night, ultra-conservative Rick Santorum expressed his disdain for the concept of global warming and advocated for the construction of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring crude oil from the oil sands regions of Alberta, Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
Santorum advocated for Keystone and has done so for coal burning as well, along with calling manmade global warming a hoax. That’s fine. But the ex-Pennsylvania senator – both for himself and as an avatar for the “denier” movement – seems oblivious to consequences of spewing toxins, allergens, and assorted chemical flotsam into the atmosphere and water supply, regardless of the issue of global warming. As we produce more Americans, who in turn make more demands for energy and chemical consumption, we are compounding our own potential for disease.
In the fall 2011 issue of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) Catalyst magazine, Liz Parera asserts that, “In the United States today, 3.2 million children and more than 9.5 million adults who suffer from asthma live in areas with bad air quality.”
Ground level ozone is a byproduct of nitrous oxides (NOx) combining with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The former are produced by burning fossil fuels, the latter by paints and solvents.
UCS combined projections of climate-induced temperature increases with a measurable variable that indicates the relationship between temperature and ozone concentrations. For each degree of warming, UCS determined, there could be an increase by 2020 in ground-level ozone of up to two parts per billion (ppb) over current levels, and seven ppb in 2050. These outwardly-appearing miniscule numbers actually translate to significant public health impacts for most of the continental United States.
But what do these numbers mean in practical terms? In eight years a two ppb increase could lead to an additional 2.8 million respiratory ailments, like asthma, severe coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. In turn, these events would lead to almost a million missed school days, along with 3,700 senior citizens and 1,400 infants being hospitalized per year.
If accurate, the 2050 projection would mean almost 12 million respiratory ailments, four million missed school days, and 24,000 seniors and 5,700 infants being hospitalized. Then there are billions of dollars in attached healthcare costs.
The battles rage in Congress, on campaign stumps, and in the media. It’s renewables versus fossil fuels; spending versus cutbacks, and notorious failures like the Solyndra debacle. But this truth remains: the longer we delay implementing environmental reforms, the less feasible it will be for us Americans to reduce air and water pollution.
America’s population now stands at almost 313 million, an increase of almost four million since the 2010 census less than two years ago.. It would take dramatic change in family planning, tax code, clean air requirement, and other reforms just to level off the rate of toxin growth, in light of population expansion. Meanwhile, Santorum makes claims that contraception leads to unplanned pregnancies.
In 2007, a group of independent experts called the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, unanimously recommended to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the government lower the cap on allowable pollution levels. Since then, UCS has been fighting to get those standards in place. But the EPA is under assault from members of Congress who are beholden to the coal industry and other influential business groups.
Adding insult to injury, last September the Obama administration delayed planned stricter standards for safe ozone levels until at least 2013. And if President Obama doesn’t win the next election, there is no telling how long, if ever, it will take for new standards to be put in place (this is not an endorsement of Obama).
“The United States has the know-how and the technology to reduce unhealthful pollution while also potentially saving billions of dollars.” says Liz Perera of UCS. “The choices we make today about the way we live, the energy we use, and the pollution we emit will make a difference not only for our own health and well-being, but that of our children and their children as well. The sooner we act, the sooner millions of Americans can breathe easier.”
Let’s take that quote one step further. The sooner we realize that reducing the number of children, and subsequently, their children – as well as encouraging other nations to do the same, the better the planet we will leave to them. There are, after all, ENOUGH OF US.