For a healthy environment, we must heal our democracy | Opinion
Alan Greengrass practiced primary care internal medicine and was a physician leader at Christiana Care.
SUBMITTED BY ALAN GREENGLASS
Today, our nation is facing the urgent issue of climate change — a “code Red for Humanity.” The world is looking to the U.S. to take leadership and to make a solid commitment. Despite strong support from the public, climate action to meet the scope and scale of the problem has been blocked. Democracy is ailing, as deliberate barriers to voting, partisan gerrymandering, the destructive influence of money in politics and filibuster-strangled politics, have managed to drown out the peoples’ voices. The few with special interests and power continue to block the will of the many.
This is of special concern to doctors.During the brutal summer of 2021, thousands of Americans died from heat stroke, hurricanes, floods and wildfire smoke; while many more suffered from trauma, advancing infectious diseases, mental health disorders and asthma driven by fossil fuel pollution. The health harms are overwhelming the ability of medical communities to provide care. Here in Delaware, with our extensive low-lying coastline and high dependence on fossil fuels for energy, we are especially susceptible to storms, flooding, urban heat, and polluted air.
Without climate action, our children will face 3 times as many floods as their grandparents and 10 times as many deadly heat extremes. The diagnosis is undeniable: climate change is a human health emergency. Organizations representing more than 70% of the physicians in the United States tell us we must act quickly to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The health benefits of breathing cleaner air will be felt immediately, while lowering carbon-dioxide will avert potentially irreversible climate change. Failing to enact strong emissions reductions now would be like diagnosing cancer, and telling the patient to just come back in a year.
As Jonathon Sharp said in his recent editorial, “This is especially relevant to Delaware, the lowest lying state in the country…. Elected officials and the public view climate change as a major problem and feel that action should be taken to reduce its impact. ….it will take a concerted effort for Delaware legislators to pass effective legislation and for Delaware citizens to make behavioral changes to effectively reduce CO2 emissions.”
A healthy democracy is foundational to electing the leaders and policies that determine whether we have clean air to breathe and a safe climate to live in, not just in the First state, but all across America. Just as we can’t fight off infection without a healthy immune system, we cannot protect our health and climate without a healthy democracy. That is why I joined more than 500 doctors, nurses and other health professionals from all 50 states in a letter to all U.S. senators of both parties, demanding that our representatives take immediate action to pass critical legislation to strengthen democracy.The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act will expand and protect the public’s access to free and fair elections, rein in corporate and dark money influence, and ensure that our democracy works for everyone.
Health professionals see grave danger, in this time of climate emergencies, in the possibility that essential democratic processes, with the progress and benefits they could bring to all, could be killed by filibusters that serve the interests of the few. I urge our own Senators Coons and Carper, who have always shown the courage to work for the people, to do whatever it takes to revive a democracy that reflects the voice of the people. Don’t let a procedural tool of the Senate stand in the way. Reform or remove the filibuster if necessary. The well-being of our patients, our communities — indeed all of humanity — depends on it.