Why Should You Care About the Air?

Linda Brookes, MSc


September 10, 2015

In This Article

So What Is a Clinician to Do?

"One thing that I would try to stress to Medscape readers is that we need public pressure to try to improve air quality," Dr Balmes urges. "Part of the reason we have done so well in California—even though we have the worst pollution in the nation, we have also made the best strides in improving it—is that there is actually a pretty strong consensus that we should work to clean up the air. It has been shown that physicians have a fairly strong impact, maybe not as much as they used to, but they still have a relative voice of authority when it comes to talking about health, and so I would encourage Medscape's physician readers to advocate for policies to improve air quality."

"It is important for physicians and the public to realize that moving away from a fossil fuel infrastructure for power generation and transportation would be a good thing for both health and climate change," Dr Balmes declares. "I am not saying that we have to stop burning all coal and gasoline tomorrow—our economy clearly couldn't tolerate that. But we should be moving in the direction of trying to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels because they produce both harmful emissions in terms of our health and in terms of the environment vis-à-vis climate change," he states. "So physician and public support for efforts to improve air quality are important. Rather than saying, 'Oh, there's nothing I can do,' people should say, 'Look, there is an impact on health, on our kids and on our elderly, as well as on the healthy middle-aged,' because taking the long-term view towards prevention is important."

Dr Balmes believes in a pragmatic approach to environmental regulation in Washington. "I don't think we should destroy the economy; on the other hand, I think that burying one's head in the sand about what the scientific data show us is foolhardy. It's not like climate change is going to go away. So I would like to see the conservatives and liberals in Washington try to work out a policy compromise that moves us towards improving air quality and mitigating climate change while trying to support the economy so we can do this in a way that balances concerns on both sides, both the health and environmental concerns and the economic concerns. What is frustrating to me, and I believe to many Americans, is that the current gridlock doesn't allow us to do anything well."