Dan Walters (CALmatters Commentary, July 19, 2020) wrote an odd column (“High living costs make people poor”) that blames systemic poverty in California on “blue-state policies” that cut air pollution and address the climate crisis. He singled out cities passing all-electric ordinances as particularly problematic, framing his argument around a high electricity rate in California.
Actually, Californians have among the lowest energy bills in the country. Our rates are higher than the national average, but the actual dollar amount spent is lower, which is expected from a state implementing solid efficiency programs. Moreover, Walters is missing the point: this is about the health and future of our children.
I am a practicing pediatrician in Richmond, one of the more than 30 cities in the state addressing the problems with burning fossil fuels in our homes. Richmond is not a city of “high personal incomes.” It has a working class history and a startling poverty problem. My patients suffer from asthma at twice the national average. They’re breathing in pollution from multiple sources in our community: the Chevron refinery, the Levin coal shipping terminal and gas appliances in their homes.
Children who grow up in a home with a gas stove are up to 42% more likely to develop asthma symptoms, a respiratory disease for kids that costs families in California $693 million every year. That means expensive treatments, hospital admissions, lost school days and lost workdays. It also means shutting the door on opportunities for children. Recently, I told a patient’s family that their son could no longer play baseball because he has asthma and it risked his health too much.
These same polluting appliances are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and to the climate crisis. The climate crisis is a health emergency, especially for our kids. Climate change is regressive: poor communities and communities of color are feeling the health effects of climate change more than wealthy and white communities.
We have a solution for polluting appliances at our door. Cities have begun to act. Efficient appliances like heat pumps and induction stoves are already available. Richmond adopted a reach code for the sake of our health. I’m not interested in a columnist in Sacramento belittling our dedicated progress as “a well-meaning campaign.” I’m interested in doing something about a longstanding health risk and bringing in all-electric appliances to new homes. I want to protect our children’s health, now and tomorrow.
Dr. Amanda Millstein, Richmond pediatrician and founder of Climate Health Now.