May 20, 2009

Greenhouse gases a ‘health threat’, declares EPA

Jim Harris
Magazine Article

By: Jordana Levine

Climate change poses a threat to society – the U.S. government made its first admission ever concerning this issue. On April 17, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that greenhouse gases are a danger to the public’s health and well-being, both now and for future generations.

The EPA recognized the dangers of carbon dioxide, methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and three other greenhouse gases, which lead to climate change. Climate change has been found to lead to a higher concentration of ozone at ground level, which is harmful to our health.  Although ozone is a useful greenhouse gas that protects humans from UV rays when it is found in the Earth’s stratosphere,[1]  it can have a damaging, and even fatal impact on human and animal respiratory systems when it is at ground level.[2]

Climate change can lead to increased drought, flooding, wildfires, intense storms, and damage water resources, agriculture, and all kinds of animals and the ecosystems they live in. These issues, among others, can have a significant impact on the health of various groups of people, including the poor, those in poor health, infants, the elderly, and indigenous groups.[3]

This new direction will support Obama administration’s efforts to focus on green jobs, clean energy, and new technologies, notes EPA’s Administrator Lisa Jackson – and says that these findings have encouraged the agency to search for the best ways to combat climate change’s negative impacts.[4]

The recent findings on the dangers of climate change have entered a public comment period, which lasts for 60 days. Still, both President Barack Obama and Jackson have made it clear that they support a legislation to tackle the issue and eventually lead to an economy based on clean, emission-free energy.[5]

Although Canada may not be actively combating climate change and its potential to affect society at the present time, Health Canada did write a report in 2000 acknowledging its dangers.  Health Canada noted both the short- and long-term effects of greenhouse gases on human health, and noted improving air quality would lead to noticeable improvements in health.

Health Canada also mentioned that, assuming the country could decrease emissions by 50 percent, the health improvements would be 40 times as effective if the U.S. became a participant in attempts to lower greenhouse gases.[6]   With the U.S. poised and willing to become a clean energy economy, Canada could join forces and contribute to a vast improvement in air quality and the health of the population as a whole.

1  WHO/Europe.  “Stratospheric ozone depletion.”  26 Mar 2007.
2  WHO/Europe.  “7th meeting: modelling and assessment of health impacts of particulate matter and ozone from LRTAP.”  20 Dec 2005.
3  Climate and Capitalism. “EPA: Greenhouse Gases Threaten Health.” 18 Apr 2009.
4  EPA. “Administrator Jackson’s Message about the Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding.” 8 May 2009.
5  Climate and Capitalism. “EPA: Greenhouse Gases”
6  Health Canada. “Climate Change and Health Economic Advisory Panel – Final Report on Health Impacts of the Greenhouse Gases (Ghg) Mitigation Measures – January 2000.”  3 Aug 2005.

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