Friday, November 20, 2009

Promoting health benefits of clean energy at the White House

WASHINGTON, DC -- Today I spent four hours at the White House on a beautiful autumn day being briefed on the public health benefits of clean energy in the U.S. The Obama Administration — ably represented by Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and other senior officials of both departments — made a strong case for the many health reasons we should move to clean energy as quickly as possible, in addition to the environmental and economic ones we already know about.

As just one example of the price we pay for unclean energy, Administrator Jackson said that one in every 10 American kids suffer from asthma. She connects with this issue in a very personal way: She has a 13-year-old son who has been asthmatic since infancy and could not always go outside because of air quality.

The hundred or so people attending the summit came from all over the country on relatively short notice. There were business and community leaders, advocates, activists, academics and nonprofit leaders from California, Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Massachusetts and my home state of Minnesota, among many other places.

I saw only one other person there from my world of global health and wondered whether the White House might have invited me by mistake. But it dawned on me that just about everything that was said about the health benefits for the U.S. also applies to the developing countries that I care about. Secretary Sebelius raised it once, when she said that global warming was increasing malaria, dengue and salmonella.

I wondered whether this new partnership to promote the benefits of clean energy in the U.S. would manifest itself in the Global Health Initiative proposed by President Obama in May. I hope so because just like the most vulnerable Americans are hit hardest by climate change, the most vulnerable and poorest people in developing countries are most affected. These people in the poorest countries in the world would probably benefit even more from clean energy than the poor in the U.S.

My organization and I look forward to working with the Obama Administration to highlight the public health benefits of clean energy not only in the U.S. but in the developing world as well.