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Kunin: Climate Change Update

Twenty-three percent of deaths world-wide are directly or indirectly caused by outdoor and indoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. This sobering statistic is mobilizing much of the world to take action against the dire effects of climate change.

And it is one conclusion drawn by a group of fifty experts at a symposium I participated in at Oxford University. Our recently issued report left little doubt that climate change is here and that it is threatening human health as well as our natural environment.

Air pollution accounts for six million deaths world wide. An additional three million deaths result from household air pollution, like cook stoves.

In the US, we continue to play tug of war between protecting the environment and creating jobs, while a group of Emerging Market nations, including China and India, have reached a different conclusion. They contend that unregulated economic ambition… will result in “irreversible environmental destruction and disastrous economic and health consequences.”

It’s a sobering call for action. Many countries have succeeded in pulling a large share of their populations out of poverty, by concentrating on economic growth. But in some parts of the globe we’re beginning to reach a point of diminishing returns. ”The relentless pursuit of economic growth is undermining not only the environment but also the very prosperity and benefits it aims to achieve in many countries,” the group reported.

The argument that we should give equal weight to good health and good jobs will be a tough sell, especially in areas of the world which are hungry for economic salvation.

And in this country, the President and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency firmly believe that global climate change is a hoax and that environmental regulation is a job killer – which is why the US is now on record to withdraw from the Paris Accord.

National governments need to work cooperatively, and commit to reduce the release of harmful elements into the atmosphere, the report recommends. This is precisely the purpose of the Paris Accord. Most importantly, we need to reverse the traditional economic consensus that “environmental initiatives harm economic growth.”

The rest of the world is beginning to recognize that if we continue to believe in unbridled growth we will have killed the goose that laid the golden egg: planet earth.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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