It’s Earth Week — it seems a good time to celebrate Earth, learn new ways to protect our Land of Enchantment and push for nationwide progress in the fight against climate change.

We New Mexicans should be on board with fighting climate change because we are already suffering from its effects. Our state is getting hotter and drier. Summers bring more dangerous heat days; our state faces one of the highest drought threats in the nation.

As a physician, I worry about the health consequences of our changing climate. Large numbers of New Mexicans live in areas at elevated risk of wildfire. Even if you never have to flee for your life from intense flames, you are likely to be endangered by the particulate matter (soot) you may have to breathe. Particulate matter harms the lungs and contributes to strokes, heart attacks and other serious ailments. Also, extreme heat can cause heat stroke, potentially resulting in death or disability if emergency care isn’t available. Heat exposure also exacerbates preexisting conditions, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

I worry a lot about our most vulnerable populations. Children, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, low-income populations and outdoor workers are all at higher risk for heat-related illnesses. Also, it is hard to protect yourself if you live in an urban “heat island,” where buildings hold the heat and the air doesn’t cool off at night; or if you work in agriculture or construction; or if you can’t afford air conditioning.

Fortunately, New Mexico is blessed with the right resources for fighting climate change. We are rich in sunshine, wind and geothermal energy. By developing these resources, we can generate low-cost electricity for state residents, sell excess energy to other states like California and reduce the carbon pollution that accelerates warming.

In addition, clean energy development can fight unemployment and racial injustice. The jobs and the benefits of programs like solar installation and home weatherizing can and should target low-income and high-unemployment communities. If we manufacture the components needed for wind and solar energy, we will also create factory jobs. These jobs could pay fairly and provide health insurance, advancing health and well-being for workers and their families.

Clean energy also means cleaner air, another contribution to health.

Change must happen nationwide, not just in New Mexico. In Washington, legislation is being promoted to invest clean energy infrastructure. Elected officials in Washington should take a cue from our state Legislature, which this year passed several important bills, including support for community solar, promotion of sustainable buildings, and a cross-agency Sustainable Economy Task Force to plan for a “just transition.” This last part is important: A just transition will assure the development of a sustainable economy benefits everyone.

Maybe this year it will be possible. Public support for clean, healthy renewable energy is strong. Polling in the fall showed that 85 percent of Americans want to see 100 percent clean energy for America.

So this Earth Week, let’s all support Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, and our honorable congressional representatives, to stand strong for fighting climate change, here and in Washington. Let’s promote bold, positive action to bring clean energy and a livable climate to everyone.

What a great way to celebrate Earth.

Dr. Robert M. Bernstein has been a Santa Fe physician for 40 years and is president of the New Mexico chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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