Cody Phen: Going green helps the planet, promotes good health

March 6, 2022. The Daily Reflector. By Cody Phen.

2021-22 J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellow Cody Phen

It seems like every year the weather is becoming more extreme, ranging from severe heat that can melt power cables to major rainfalls that wash away homes and severe winter snow that disables entire power grids. When we think of climate change, we often neglect to consider the significant impact it has on community health.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, climate change such as reduction of air quality due to greenhouse gases makes many existing health conditions worse for everyone, especially for the vulnerable populations —children, elderly and the poor. These negative health effects include increased risk factors for lung and heart disease, premature deaths from injuries from extreme weather, and damage to mental health.

One example of how climate change poses a risk to our health is extreme heat and poor air quality. Greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) create a layer in our atmosphere that traps the heat from sunlight preventing it from escaping the Earth, much like the windows of a greenhouse trap heat inside the house. In this case, Earth is the house.

Extreme heat and poor air quality can worsen asthma, affect the kidneys and cause heat-related injuries such as dehydration and death. According to the EPA, burning fossil fuel for transportation accounts for 29 percent of the greenhouse gases, electricity production at 23 percent, and residential (heating and handling of waste) at 13 percent. This shows that households are accountable for over 65 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, this demonstrates that we are the ones responsible for negatively contributing to climate change and in turn, our health.

Well, you must be thinking, “I’m just a single person, what can I do to help fight climate change and make my community a little bit greener?” There are several things we can do at an individual level that can promote positive change in our community and for the climate. Some examples include reducing food waste (Americans throw about 40 percent of the food they buy), recycling (it takes 95 percent less energy to create products from recycled aluminum than from new aluminum sources), buying less (leads to reduction in landfall waste), and going electric (using hybrid or electric vehicles will help reduce carbon emissions).

A small change can have a big impact. For example, reducing food waste and eating healthier means we prevent the early onset of diabetes and hypertension. Recycling reduces waste that ends up landfills and less waste means less pollution. Buying less saves you money, always a good thing. And going electric means less reliance on burning fossil fuels and production of greenhouse gases.

The main point is that consuming less and living sustainably will not only improve and reverse climate change, but also have positive effects on us and our community’s health. Go green by making one change today. And don’t forget to reduce, reuse, and recycle!

Cody Phen is a student at the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine and a 2021-22 J. Bradley Wilson Schweitzer Fellow. He is from Durham.