LETTER: New year, new opportunity

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By The Staff

The economic meltdown is monopolizing the nation’s attention, and critical issues such as climate change have been pushed to the sidelines. It is critical, however, that substantive climate change legislation be passed quickly, certainly within the 2009 calendar year.

While policy makers justifiably are concerned about our dire fiscal predicament, delaying climate change legislation is shortsighted.  Solving climate change and revitalizing the American economy go hand in hand. In no way are they mutually exclusive.

The recent $700 billion bailout may have helped major industries and financial institutions, but what if billions were channeled into a “green stimulus plan”?  A federal green stimulus plan that supported renewable energy and efficiency would foster new industries, create millions of new jobs, help solve climate change, and improve the health of Americans.

Ed Mazria, a prominent New Mexico architect, has come up with a sound and compelling plan. By investing a relatively small amount, $170 billion, in energy efficiency for buildings over the next three years, people like you and me will save $203 billion in energy bills, and 2.5 million jobs will be created. This plan can be put into place immediately, and the investment will pay immediate dividends. Equally compelling, this plan will dramatically cut our dependence on coal-generated electricity – reducing air pollution and slowing global warming.

Coal plants currently account for more than one-fourth of our nation’s global warming pollution, and emissions have been linked to birth defects, heart attacks, strokes, asthma, and other respiratory diseases. Particulates formed from power plant emissions are responsible for nearly 24,000 premature deaths annually, more people than are killed by drunk drivers each year. And in New Mexico, 26 rivers and lakes currently have fish consumption advisories as a result of mercury emissions from coal plants.

The threat to public health from mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides is serious enough to warrant immediate action. Yet this threat pales in comparison to the financial and health costs from unchecked global warming. With American coal plants alone adding over two billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, we must ask ourselves: what are the costs of not quickly enacting climate change legislation and investing in a new energy economy?  

As we consider the future prospects for our economy, we should be asking our policy makers: What are the costs of more frequent extreme weather events like Katrina or an increasingly unstable food supply? What are the costs to New Mexicans posed by a major loss of fresh water due to reduced snowpack from global warming? Can we afford a resurgence of malaria and other infectious diseases? Is there a dollar amount that can be attached to the likely extinction of a quarter of the world’s land species?

If we want to avoid runaway climate change and jumpstart the economy, we need to phase out coal. We know we can do this by investing in efficiency and renewable energy — green industries that will create millions of jobs and protect public health.

The new year, the new Congress, and the new President offer enormous hope and possibilities for our nation. This is a critical time for our nation. We can address and solve our biggest challenges, simultaneously transforming them into our biggest opportunities.  

Dr. Larry Schreiber

Dr. John Fogarty

Dr. Robert M. Bernstein

Dr. Norty Kalishman

Physicians for Social Responsibility