Opinion: Maryland’s Climate Solutions Are Health Solutions for All Marylanders
By Katie Huffling
The writer is the founding executive director of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and a resident of Mount Rainier.
When people discuss why climate bills will be good for Maryland, you often hear about how these bills will help reduce energy consumption, better prepare us for sea-level rise and attract federal investments in a clean energy future. For one of the states most vulnerable to climate impacts, these are crucial benefits.
But these are only part of the positive impacts that will be realized if we support climate solutions. As a nurse midwife who practiced for six years in Prince George’s County before becoming the executive director of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, I’m on board because of the health benefits.
Every day, I see evidence that climate change is already wreaking havoc on the health of our communities. Hard-hitting climate legislation, such as the Climate Solutions Now Act, will improve the health of all Marylanders now and for generations to come.
It’s crucial that voters and our elected officials realize that climate solutions are health solutions. Not just on a global scale, but that climate action has local health benefits.
The Climate Solutions Now Act will deliver much-needed health benefits in the following ways:
It will help pregnant women by improving birth outcomes. Mounting evidence shows an association between heat, air pollution and adverse birth outcomes.
During pregnancy, if women have higher exposure to these elements, they have a higher risk of preterm birth, low birthweight and stillbirth. In particular, climate change exacerbates two components of air pollution, particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone. Both of these pollutants have local impacts from both stationary and mobile sources of pollution. And because housing and zoning policies are rooted in systems of racial inequity, Black mothers are at highest risk for these outcomes, which also means that policies that reduce air pollution burden will have the greatest benefit for these communities.
I have seen firsthand pregnant women struggling to breathe when they come into my office on the poor air quality days that are becoming more common as the climate changes. Through the emissions reductions included in the Climate Solutions Now Act, pregnant women will feel the immediate and local benefits of cleaner air while Maryland reduces its overall impact on climate change.
It will help kids with asthma, and their families. Nationally, asthma is a leading cause of chronic school absenteeism. The Maryland Department of Health reports that asthma is the most common chronic condition in Maryland schoolchildren, affecting more than 60,000 students statewide. When kids miss school from asthma, they risk falling behind in their studies and in many cases it also means that parents miss days of work (and income) or have to pay for unanticipated child care. Air pollution can also affect cognitive development in young children.
Exposure to PM2.5 can compromise the blood-brain barrier, which can affect their ability to learn as they mature and can have increased risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s later in life. This is why climate solutions are health solutions and why state and local action is critical: reducing our emissions has immediate and tangible benefits that in many cases are felt throughout a lifetime.
Finally, it will provide a healthier future for those who get on the green career ladder, focused in communities disproportionately impacted by climate change.
The Climate Solutions Now Act creates the Climate Justice Corps, which offers a green career ladder and the opportunity for youth to deploy clean energy technology at a good wage. The CDC includes economic stability as a strong social determinant of health, and employment and income have a direct impact on life expectancy, quality of life, and health care costs. Investing in green jobs is a critical health advancement not just for people who are trained and can hold jobs, but for the people in Maryland whose health will be improved through advancement in clean and green energy.
Whether your climate risks are increased because of biological susceptibility (e.g. age, existing health status) or vulnerability (e.g. where you live, access to decision-making), the Climate Solutions Now Act will invest in solutions to improve your health. Of course, pregnant people, those who have asthma, and the underemployed are not the only ones whose health prospects will improve thanks to the Climate Solutions Now Act.
All Marylanders will benefit from the bill’s investment in cleaner air and a more resilient environment. These are the types of win-win solutions our communities need.