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In this election, our kids' health and future are at stake | Column
We need leaders who listen to experts, believe in scientists and trust health professionals
Melissa Baldwin and her children.
Melissa Baldwin and her children. [ Provided ]
Published Oct. 26, 2020
Updated Oct. 30, 2020

I’ll never forget the day I learned about climate change. My college professor drew a line across the chalkboard — from one end of the room to the other.

He drew two small hash marks, close together, in the middle to mark the temperatures where water freezes and where it boils. Then he explained that the hottest temperature is the surface of the sun at about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit and that the coldest is negative 459 degrees Fahrenheit.

He explained that if his example were to scale, the extremes would extend far across campus. However, liquid water, which sustains life on Earth, exists only between 32 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

And we are messing with that thermostat.

The fury that built up inside of me, especially when I learned that the fossil fuel industry was deceiving the public, drives me to this day.

Climate change is a here-and-now problem. With just a 1.8 degree rise in the atmosphere’s temperature, Florida has experienced more destructive hurricanes, intense rainfall, frequent flooding, toxic algal blooms and deadly heat.

As the program manager for Florida Clinicians for Climate Action, my job is to engage health professionals to learn about climate and advocate for equitable solutions.

The warming climate is harming our health now. Everyone is at risk, but some people are more vulnerable than others. The elderly are at greater risk of heatstroke, as are pregnant women, infants, children and people without air conditioning. The last five years are the hottest five years on record. It’s going to get hotter.

The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts that by midcentury, Hillsborough County will go from having about one week of “feels like” 100-degree temperatures to over two months per year. Heat kills more people than any other extreme weather event.

My kids were born in October and March — normally months when the heat isn’t oppressive and we can safely play outside. I despise the way that global warming has stolen those beautiful days from my family. These days, summer lasts longer. Rare are the days when it feels safe to play outside with my kids without being drenched in sweat or attacked by mosquitoes.

It’s not just the heat. Allergies are getting worse. Carbon dioxide supercharges pollen. I never wanted my kids to be on meds, but I’ve learned that if I don’t put them on daily allergy medication we end up with nasty sinus or ear infections from prolonged runny noses.

The good news is that climate solutions are health solutions.

A 2020 climate report by the U.S. House of Representatives shows that we can save lives and trillions of dollars by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution. If we stay in the Paris Agreement and keep the rise in temperature to less than 3.6 degrees below preindustrial levels, over the next 50 years we can prevent over 100,000 premature deaths, eliminate 40,000 emergency room visits, and save more than 23 million lost workdays. That translates into $750 billion in health benefits.

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When politicians claim that clean energy is too expensive, they neglect to mention what we already pay. Whether we use dirty or clean fuels, this country will spend trillions on energy in the coming decades. If we choose clean energy, we also get to save our homes, improve our health and create jobs.

Climate change is an existential threat. Our children will pay the price. My daughter Clara was born in 2015. By the time she reaches her first prom in 2030, scientists say that we must cut our pollution in half.

By the time she’s my age, Tampa Bay is projected to have up to 2.5 feet of sea-level rise. Right now, our kids' future does not look so bright. To protect them, we must act before it’s too late.

We need leaders in office who listen to experts. Believe in scientists. Listen to health professionals. And believe in the power of your vote to make a difference.

Melissa Meehan Baldwin is the program manager for Florida Clinicians for Climate Action and the President of Chase Media Services, LLC.