A medical worker performs a symbolic "artificial respiration" on a globe as health care workers from various countries perform a "die-in" to protest the effect of climate change on health issues at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Credit: Thomas Hartwell / AP

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We think of burning fossil fuels as causing global warming, weather disasters and the loss of animal species. All frighteningly true, but it also directly affects your health. I practiced medicine for 30 years before understanding this.

Burning fossil fuels puts out fine particulate matter, particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter in the air. Doctors have realized for years that air pollution causes breathing difficulties in patients with heavy exposure, such as miners. Recently it has been shown to cause asthma in people without obvious exposure. A recent study ( Rice et al. J. Allergy and Immunology 2018) showed that children who live 100 meters from a major highway have three times the asthma rate as those 400 meters away. Experts now attribute 4.5 million deaths worldwide a year to fine particulate matter (Lancet, Countdown January 2020).

These fine particles enter your lungs and cause damage but now we realize that they also go from the lungs to other organs. Thus, air pollution is now recognized as a secondary cause of heart attacks, decreased birth weight, premature birth, hypertension and more ( Harvard Medical Grand Rounds in Sept. 2021). Reducing air pollution by adopting renewables would pay off quickly. John Timmer estimates that particulate matter and ozone benefits will be 5 to 25 higher than the cost of implementation by 2030 (J. Timmer, Ars Technica, Nov. 2021).

Call Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden and tell them to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and put a price on carbon.

Nancy Hasenfus