Oregon's new Climate Protection Program is a reason for hope

·3 min read
Hundreds of students lobby for action on climate change from local legislatures at Salem’s Global Climate Strike, September 20, 2019, at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Oregon. The local strike accompanied others that occured internationally.
Hundreds of students lobby for action on climate change from local legislatures at Salem’s Global Climate Strike, September 20, 2019, at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Oregon. The local strike accompanied others that occured internationally.

We can't accept a future where our state burns uncontrollably for months at a time, blanketing our homes and communities in dangerous smoke.

We can’t keep our families healthy without enough clean water to drink.

We can’t endure more deadly heatwaves like the one last summer that killed more than 100 Oregonians and saw Salem smash temperature records while struggling to cool our most vulnerable neighbors.

All of which is to say, we can’t afford runaway climate change.

Another scourge of the climate crisis is the toll it takes on our mental health — for young people facing a dire future, for parents like me wondering what kind of world will be left to our children and for our elders whose health is vulnerable to the increasing extremes fueled by climate change. Action breeds hope, a nice antidote to climate anxiety.

Thankfully, we now have a good reason for hope. Oregon recently passed the historic Climate Protection Program — setting a path for our state over the next three decades to make the necessary transition to clean energy, healthier all-electric homes and buildings and transportation options to help us get around without air pollution.

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission approved the innovative program in December. As we look ahead, it’s important we acknowledge the leap forward Oregon made on climate and public health.

Oregon’s new Climate Protection Program is designed to hold those most responsible for the problem accountable and set them on a path toward solutions by requiring oil companies, natural gas utilities and large industrial polluters to reduce the climate pollution they put out over time — a 50% reduction in pollution by 2035 and 90% by 2050.

To achieve the transition to clean energy and a healthier future, those companies, along with other investors and government incentives, will combine to improve the lives of Oregonians — for example, electrifying our trucks, buses and cars. While not the sole solution to a healthier, more equitable transportation system, removing the air pollution caused by burning diesel and gasoline will reduce medical bills and missed days of work or school.

Similarly, the transition to energy-efficient, all-electric homes will improve health through better indoor and outdoor air quality. Helping Oregonians improve their house or apartment to be more energy-efficient means better insulation and a tighter seal from outside air pollution, whether it’s diesel soot or wildfire smoke. Inside, electric heating and cooling, cooking and water heating appliances remove the pollution from natural gas burning, which more and more medical research shows is bad for our health.

Air pollution from burning fossil fuels and the resulting warming climate are costing us physically, mentally and economically.

Jessica Nischik-Long is the executive director for the Oregon Public Health Association.
Jessica Nischik-Long is the executive director for the Oregon Public Health Association.

While solutions often feel painfully slow in coming, Oregon is making strides to take responsibility for our share of the climate crisis and to transition to cleaner transportation options and ways to produce energy.

There is a lot of work still to do. Our children and theirs will reap the benefits of the forward-thinking steps taken now.

Bold action, like the Climate Protection Program, gives me hope — as a public health professional, as a mom and as someone who loves this beautiful state we’re so lucky to call home.

Jessica Nischik-Long, MPH, is the executive director for the Oregon Public Health Association. You may reach her at jnischik.opha@gmail.com

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Why Oregon's Climate Protection Program is a reason for hope

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