The Obama administration linked climate change to human health Tuesday, saying unchecked greenhouse gas pollution could cause 57,000 deaths a year by 2100 from bad air and 12,000 from extreme temperatures — findings Colorado lawmakers addressed at a forum.
“The changing climate that we’re causing is an existential threat,” said Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood.
Commerce City residents living close to industry “will likely have a shorter life span,” said Rep. Dominick Moreno, who represents that area.
The lawmakers gathered at the University of Denver with federal agency leaders as the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a report that quantifies impacts of climate change, including billions of dollars damage annually from wildfires, rising sea levels and drought.
The EPA is targeting coalfired power plants, trying to cut U.S. carbon emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels within 15 years. President Obama is negotiating with other nations for reductions before a summit in Paris.
Rising temperatures favor drought, which brings dust, wildfires that release particulates, and increased ozone pollution, EPA regional climate change coordinator Laura Farris said.
“Our concern here is ground-level ozone. ... Ozone is exacerbated by oil and gas development, even in rural areas,” Farris said. “We’re concerned about the link between rising temperatures and ground-level ozone.”
U.S. Health and Human Services officials plan to work with state and local agencies, “making sure they understand the important connection between public health and the climate,” regional administrator Kim Gillan said.
Health workers said they’re seeing impacts, such as increased asthma. The effect of heavy ozone “is like sunburn on the lungs,” American Lung Association air program manager Kim Tyrrell said. “It has a corrosive long-term impact.”
Environment activists reckoned the health link may energize voters.
“The doctor has said the planet has a fever. The prescription is to stop using fossil fuels,” Environment Colorado global warming campaign director Travis Madsen said.
“People should understand threats to their health. It makes our situation more obvious in a visceral way.”