The writer is an emeritus professor in Health Education & Public Health at UNO. He is the Nebraska Governing Council representative to the American Public Health Association.
Do you have to see to believe?
Some facts that humans have come to believe seem to defy our modes of everyday perception. How did we come to believe that things can have an effect on us even when they are not visible to the naked eye, not audible, have no odor and can’t be felt?
Here are some examples: carbon monoxide, radiation and radon gas, bacteria, viruses, chromosomes, genes, DNA and cancer cells. For most of human existence, people were oblivious to the causes of illnesses and diseases. Thanks to science, we know a lot more about causes and how to prevent certain conditions and disorders.
Who among us denies the role of DNA, chromosomes and genes in carrying on the traits that make us human but also can contribute to a myriad of diseases and disorders, even when small changes occur? Who doesn’t know that overexposure to X-rays and radon can cause diseases and death? Who doesn’t know that certain viruses and bacteria can cause a host of diseases? Who doesn’t know that tobacco use contributes to many serious health problems, including cancer?
And despite the fact that there are still many aspects of cancer that medical science does not fully understand, who doesn’t know that much progress has been made in preventing and treating many types of cancers? Who doesn’t know that, in many instances, ignoring symptoms can lead to the risk of complications and death?
All of the topics in questions posed above were denied, ignored, scorned and ridiculed at one point in history. So who doesn’t know that carbon dioxide is increasing in our atmosphere and that humans are a main contributor to this change? Who doesn’t know that ignoring or denying the science, as in denying cancer, doesn’t help to solve the problem? Who doesn’t know that global warming doesn’t mean temperatures are warmer every day in every place?
If a person were having seizures that increased in frequency and intensity, who wouldn’t think it was time for intervention? Who thinks that a few degrees in temperature are nothing to worry about? Certainly not those who think that a fever of 104 degrees is no different than a fever of 106 degrees. Certainly not people who know the difference in the damages caused by a cold rainstorm versus an ice storm.
Just as science has given us the instruments to see the previously unseen and to detect the previously undetected in the human body, as well as in the far reaches of the universe, it has also allowed scientists to measure and document climate change. When 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that humans are major contributors, it is time to pay attention.
We as a society can choose to ignore climate change and global warming, but we do so at the peril of our younger generations. Let’s take action now to decrease carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Contact your elected board members of your local public power supplier and let them know you want them to greatly diversify their portfolio to include more renewable energy. Ask them to reward energy efficiency. Join groups that advocate for a healthier environment. Support policies such as the Citizens Climate Lobby’s Carbon Fee and Dividend Act.
This measure would require heavy polluters to pay a fee on the carbon that they add to the atmosphere and pay monthly dividends to each American household. This would serve as an incentive for big polluters to decrease their carbon emissions and would stimulate the economy by giving families additional spending money.
Of course, there are many things we can do as individuals, including driving less, walking and biking more, insulating our homes, buying as many local products as possible, practicing the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and a whole host of other energy-saving activities.
Back in 1853, John Snow, a doctor who had been studying cholera outbreaks, had reason to believe that contaminated water was the cause of the cholera epidemics. The townspeople, the authorities and the water suppliers thought Snow’s ideas were folly. Dr. Snow persisted and convinced the water company to remove the pump handle at the most suspect well. Without access to the water in the contaminated well, the epidemic dramatically stopped.
Alas, the solution to pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is not so easily solved. We as a society can’t simply remove a metaphorical pump handle from our sources of contamination, but we can take the actions mentioned above. The longer we deny, delay and dally, the more harmful the results will be, especially to our next generations.