Coalition Report

By Heather Navarro,
Executive Director Missouri Coalition for the Environment

Climate Change Hits Home For Missouri

For those of us in the middle of the country, climate change can seem remote and distant. Recent stories about the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet or submerged islands in the Pacific, for example, push the impacts of climate change far away somewhere else or too far into the future for us to contemplate. Despite recent news from the White House and the United Nations that the situation is bleak, here in Missouri, we continue on with life as usual on the faulty premise that “coal is cheap.”

Coal and natural gas are “cheap” for many of us when we look at nothing more than our electric bills. However, consider the health care costs associated with asthma and respiratory illnesses. All 5 counties in the St. Louis region fail to meet ozone standards. Heat aggravates ozone; ozone aggravates asthma. In Missouri, there were more than 7,700 hospital admissions for asthma in 2011, with an average cost of more than $14,300 for each stay. Add in missed school and work days and the costs go up.

While the air appears cleaner than it did 20 years ago, climate change is about much more than clear skies. Unhealthy ozone levels can be present on otherwise beautiful, sunny days. And clear skies are not an indicator for climate change.

In Missouri, we experience climate change in increased flooding of our hundreds of thousands of miles of rivers and streams. When floods inundate our homes and overflow our sewers, that’s hardly a bargain. Droughts decimate our crops and an extended growing season will be offset by increased spring freezing. Extreme weather events shape our landscapes and our livelihoods. Over the past 10 years, Missourians were affected by at least 15 disasters that each did more than $1 billion in damage. Such events are on the rise and we will continue to pay for the disaster recovery, rebuilding, and relocation.

Industry and utilities do not pay the external costs of extracting and burning fossil fuels. We do. What’s really cheap is talk. Efforts to convince us that coal is the answer because skies are bluer or that switching a few light bulbs will save the day obscure the path to climate stabilization. Significant strides in efficiency, reducing greenhouse gases, and renewable energy are needed now, otherwise it is our grandchildren who will pay the costs.

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