The Mountain State’s TRUSTED news source.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.


Learn more about HD Media

Climate change — and the pollution that causes climate change — isn’t just a threat to “the planet” in the abstract; it is already affecting West Virginians’ lives and harming our health. And the risks seem to be escalating rapidly.

This year, the deaths because of unusual, extreme weather have been particularly alarming. A winter storm in Texas killed more than 200 people while a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest killed more than 500. A hurricane that made landfall in Louisiana killed dozens on the East Coast. None of this is normal.

The headlines about the latest U.N. climate report naturally focused on the scientific consensus that climate change is already here and that we have little time left to take action to prevent it from becoming catastrophic. But one hopeful note in the report got little attention: The scientists had high confidence that reducing emissions would provide “direct and immediate population health benefits.”

Mountaineers stand to benefit more than most: We have shorter life expectancies than people in any other state, and life expectancies are the shortest of all in Southwestern West Virginia.

Low-income communities and people of color often bear the worst of the consequences. During heatwaves, these communities already experience higher heat-related illnesses and death. Furthermore, many of West Virginia’s disenfranchised communities live in low-lying areas — leaving them at greater risk from extreme flooding in a warming world, like we saw in 2016.

Stories you might like

The world is already moving to renewable energy sources. It is just a question of how quickly.

The budget bill under consideration in Congress will speed up this process, getting to 80% clean energy by 2030 and making a full transition by 2050. The plan gives coal-dependent communities more time and, ultimately, more opportunities to earn incentives, easing the transition and even cutting our electricity bills.

More importantly, moving quickly will save lives and save money. Researchers at Harvard and Syracuse universities found the plan would prevent approximately 317,000 premature deaths nationwide over the next three decades — West Virginia and Kentucky would see the most lives saved per capita. A West Virginia University study found West Virginians could save $1 billion in health costs over 15 years.

Right now, the nation’s eyes are on Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who could well cast the deciding vote.

As Manchin dives into the clean energy provisions, we would respectfully invite him to consider the costs of inaction, in addition to the price tag of the program — the babies born too small, the students that need inhalers to breathe or the parents that die too soon.

Dr. Daniel Doyle, of Oak Hill, is a family physician at New River Health Association in Fayette County and Cabin Creek Health Systems in Kanawha County, with more than 40 years of service in those communities.

Contributing to this op-ed were Dr. Daniel Foster of Charleston; Dr. Joseph Golden of Beckley; Dr. Kenneth Wright of Charleston; Dr. Agnes Franz of Fairmont; and Dr. Michael Schroering of Fairmont.

As a group, these six physicians have over 200 years of combined service to West Virginia.

Recommended for you