By Zachary Shahan,/em>
This article is not about COVID-19. It is not about what we should do in response to COVID-19, what government policies or our individual routines should look like. The connection to COVID-19 is simply this: we responded strongly to a serious health threat, so why can’t we respond as strongly (and with immensely less harm from side effects) to a much bigger problem?
Some would say we responded too dramatically to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the vast majority of people surveyed thought the response was appropriate or too weak. People also support governmental initiatives to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and electric vehicles, but political leaders (ahem, almost entirely of one stripe) oppose strong — or even moderate — policies.
Pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels causes lung cancer, heart attacks, childhood asthma, dementia, psychosis, diabetes, childhood leukemia, brain tumors, learning challenges, renal failure, Alzheimer’s disease, fetal development problems, higher bone fracture risk, & lower sperm quality, among other things.
If a virus rolled in that caused all of those problems and led to 200,000 premature deaths a year in the United States alone, I’m ashamed to say that we’d take it a lot more seriously than we take air pollution today.
Pollution from burning oil, coal, and natural gas is also heating up the planet to the point that it may one day not be livable for humans. This is not a joke. This is not a test. This is not an exercise. This is a real-life threat to human society as we know it and the survivability of our children and our future generations.
There are so many things that could be done to reduce this annual death toll and take this risk down several notches. I’m tempted to start listing them, but I’m concerned the list would quickly get overwhelming and depressing since we are not implementing these policies. Instead, I’ve got another idea.
If it’s important to you that 200,000 Americans die prematurely each year (or find your country’s number if you are not American) and that we are heating the planet to the point that our children are already going to face unprecedented damage and societal cost from “natural disasters,” then join CleanTechnica in making a weekly call to your representative in the House of Representatives, your Senator, and perhaps state and local government. I know, it sounds annoying (who makes calls these days?!) and you’re tempted to think it doesn’t make a difference (as am I), but former senators have repeatedly said this is the thing to do. As former senators, I have to believe they know the best way to influence people who were in their positions. A complementary option, of course, is to help people run against ineffective politicians.
On the call, keep it simple. Forget about long talking point memos. Emphasize that 200,000 Americans a year die from air pollution and we’re threatening society with global heating, that you want them to pass legislation to promote renewable energy and electric vehicles. Go from there as you wish in the moment.
Every weekend, I am going to make it a priority to remind you to call your elected officials. We need to do this if we want to see change.
In various ways, smart people have pointed out that politicians are not leaders, they’re followers. They follow the wishes and demands of the people. We, the people, have to be the ones who push politicians to bring us into the future.
The best thing of all: we have the technologies today that we need to quickly transition from burning stuff to cleantech, to driving on sunshine and wind. It’s cost competitive and better. However, industries are slow to retire old tech, people are slow to learn about new options, cultures are slow to drop old habits, and we need policies that help accelerate the change on this one.
Do your job as a citizen.