By Dr. Linda Walden
Here in the Southeast, natural gas is a fossil fuel that provides electricity for our homes and business. We use it daily to heat our homes in the winter, power our air conditioners in the summer and cook our food. In fact, natural gas accounts for 46 percent of our electricity in Georgia, compared to the national average of 34 percent. It affects the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.
As a physician, I know the environment is of vital importance in improving the health of patients. Switching from fossil gas to clean energy sources is necessary when it comes to protecting our health. We need all of our physicians and other health care providers to inform their patients about the necessity for clean energy.
Many rural communities in Georgia get their electricity from natural gas provided by rural electric co-ops serving 4.4 million people, but burning natural gas and other fossil fuels can be harmful to our health.
Rural electric co-ops in Georgia are private nonprofit companies that were designed as a unique solution to get electricity to rural communities across 73 percent of Georgia, with the mission of better service and lower prices. Unfortunately, in Georgia only 9 percent of electricity comes from clean energy such as solar panels. The rest comes from natural gas and other unhealthy sources.
The main component of natural gas is methane, a potent, harmful greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, increasing temperatures in the environment, affecting our health. Chronic exposure to methane, especially from gas leaks, can cause vision problems, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, problems with balance, numbness, and even unconsciousness and death. Methane reduces the amount of oxygen in the air we breathe.
Methane and other gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide trap the heat and vapor in our environment increasing the temperatures causing what is referred to as climate change. The changes in our climate are causing early spring blossoms and hotter summers, leading to heat-related illnesses and worsening the health of our patients with pre-existing diseases such as asthma, seasonal allergies COPD, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
We physicians across the state, region and country are increasingly talking to our patients about climate change and switching to clean energy sources. The simple fact is the changing climate, fueled by natural gas and other fossil fuels, is harming our health. Switching to clean energy sources such as solar panel rooftops is necessary when it comes to protecting our health.
Through Georgia’s rural electricity co-ops, there is a path for us to transition to clean energy and improve our health.
Part of the rural electric co-ops’ purpose is to empower consumer members to improve the quality of their lives. Members are part owners of the co-ops and have a voice, theoretically, in the decisions their co-op makes. It is essential that we use this voice to encourage co-ops to adopt more clean energy solutions like solar panel rooftops to provide electricity for our homes.
Advantages of clean/renewable energy sources such as solar panel rooftops include:
** Health and environmental benefits by reducing air pollution, making it easier to breathe.
** Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
** Consumer savings through energy efficiency (solar power and electric vehicles).
** Creation of economic development and jobs in manufacturing and home improvements with efficiency and solar panels.
** Creates jobs for installation and manufacturing of Solar panels.
** Use as a tax credit
As physicians, we can make a difference for our patients’ health and well-being advocating that electric co-ops realize the importance of having clean/renewable energy in our homes.
Linda I. Walden, M.D., FAAFP, is a family physician in Cairo. She’s also a founding member and a steering committee member of the Georgia Clinicians for Climate Action and member of the Medical Society Consortium for Climate and Health.