The President's Column: The Climate Crisis Is A Matter of Life and Death

October 10, 2019

We healthcare workers must organize, mobilize and choose life.

ggresham_520_feat.jpgLast month, right after Labor Day, CNN conducted an unusual— actually, unique—seven-hour-long forum for the leading Democratic presidential candidates to present their ideas about the climate emergency. It was extraordinary that a major cable network would think the issue is so important that viewers would tune in so many hours.

I was struck by the timing, coming as it did right after the country celebrated working people and their struggles. It implicitly rejected the old, nonsensical argument that environment protection means the loss of jobs.

Workers, people of color, Native peoples, and the poor have borne and will continue to bear the brunt of this crisis if we don’t find the means to avert it. It has become increasingly clear that as the globe continues to warm, we are in an existential crisis.

Nothing less than the future of the planet Earth and life can continue as we know it if humanity does not act urgently to put on the brakes to the plunder by the oil, chemical, timber and mining corporations.

All the signs are there to foresee the fate of the earth: increasing numbers and severity of hurricanes and floods, devastating fires from the California redwoods to the Amazon, record heat waves on every continent, sea levels rising from the melting of the Arctic, increased air pollution and hospitalizations, premature deaths, crop failures, extinct species, spread of new diseases and intensified migration.

In the first six months of this year alone, more than seven million human beings have been made homeless refugees as a result of extreme weather. As healthcare workers, we well understand the seriousness of cardiac arrest or stagefour cancer. The entire planet is approaching just that stage of frailty.

As a grandparent, I can’t bear the idea of my little ones not being able to grow up in a habitable environment. But plagues of deadly insects, heat waves beyond what we’ve ever experienced, south Florida and Manhattan under water—all are part of the forecast for their lifetimes if we don’t reverse our present direction. And when I say forecast, I am referring to what actual meteorologists and other science professionals are saying, not the guy in the White House with his Sharpie.

The old false choice for workers of “jobs vs. the environment” no longer makes sense—if it ever did. Mines are rapidly shutting down, oil pipelines are essentially temp work, gas extraction is highly mechanized. Sustainable energy—wind power, solar power, and such—are far more labor intensive. The Green New Deal, introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) give a picture of what is now not only possible but essential—an overhaul of the economy to give productive and secure jobs to working people, guaranteeing health care as a universal right, while replacing energy sources that threaten human life with those that guarantee humanity’s future.

The most toxic polluters are located almost exclusively in poor and working-class communities, where virtually all coal-fired plants, public incinerators and waste dumps are to be found. I’ll bet nobody reading these words can identify such a poisonous facility located in Palm Beach, Scarsdale, Beacon Hill, McLean, or any other wealthy community.

We 1199 sisters and brothers, like the rest of humanity, must be greatly concerned and engage around these existential threats to our children and our children’s children.

As healthcare workers and frontline caregivers, we daily see patients suffering from myriad pulmonary diseases, heart diseases, cancers, and other conditions that are the result of environmental degradation. And the situation has only become worse these last three years as the Trump administration seeks every opportunity to despoil our water, air, and green spaces in the service of greater profits for the fossil-fuel industries.

Obviously, the first precondition to reverse the impending catastrophe is using all our energies in 2020 to drive out of public office the criminal class now running the government. It really is not an exaggeration to say that the upcoming election is a matter of life or death. We 1199SEIU healthcare workers will always choose life.

1199 Magazine | September / October 2019