As members of the medical and nursing professions, we applaud the introduction of legislation that would update Minnesota’s renewable energy standard to at least 80 percent by 2035 — and would get Minnesota to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. We are also pleased to see Gov. Tim Walz announce his plan to move Minnesota to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, and he is working closely with the electric utilities on this plan. Minnesotans should be encouraged by this added momentum.
So much of the energy we use here in Minnesota — allowing us to heat our homes, drive to work, and cook our families dinner each night — is powered by burning fossil fuels, which increases air and water pollution and contributes to climate change.
Climate change directly impacts the well-being of our patients and of communities in all corners of the state, and is already harming the health of Minnesotans in a myriad of ways. If we are to protect the health of Minnesotans, we must transition away from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy sources.
Health care providers see firsthand the impacts of our changing climate as more patients seek treatment during extended heat waves and for asthma, chronic bronchitis, and other respiratory ailments. Extreme heat and weather events also impact infrastructure, causing power failures and straining emergency and health care services. Tackling climate change can improve air quality and mitigate some major health care challenges such as emergency room visits, lost work and school days, and more.
Further, the warmer and wetter conditions that have become more common throughout the Midwest are favorable to the spread of insects that carry infectious diseases, including Lyme and West Nile. In fact, Minnesota is currently one of the top 10 states with the highest annual incidence of West Nile.
And it is not just our physical health that is impacted by climate change. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, climate change negatively impacts mental health as well. Not only are individuals suffering from poor mental health more susceptible to the many physical health impacts of climate change, survivors of natural disasters often experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Minnesota’s proposed 100 percent clean energy legislation reflects the urgency of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which emphasized that avoiding the most damaging effects of a warming climate will require rapid change in how we use and generate energy. That means we must completely phase out the use of coal and switch to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.Hundreds of local health professionals support doing so because they know that transitioning to clean energy would help to stave off many of the negative health impacts of a changing climate that we are already experiencing here in Minnesota.
Minnesota alone cannot solve the global climate challenge, but we can and must do our part. The health and well-being of our communities depend on it.
Achieving 100 percent clean energy is crucial for our public health, and we urge lawmakers to do the right thing in advancing this legislation. Our patients and all Minnesotans need and deserve a healthy climate.
Michael Menzel, M.D., is a member of the American Society of Anesthesiology. He served as founder and director of the Acute Pain Service at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital. Teddie M. Potter, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, is the coordinator of the Doctor of Nursing Practice in Health Innovation and Leadership and the Director of Inclusivity and Diversity in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. Both serve on the Executive Committee of Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate (HPHC), a network of Minnesota nurses, physicians, public health and other allied health professionals committed to inspiring and activating the health care community to address climate change through interprofessional education, clinical practice, and public advocacy.
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