Andie Madsen: You can’t vaccinate yourself against the effects of global warming

What have we brushed aside to make way for our COVID-19 response?

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Aslam Khan, 52, shuts his eyes tightly as he receives his first free Moderna vaccination from Kimberly Desmond with Salt Lake County Health Department on Thursday. Over 120 people were scheduled to get their first shots of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines at the Utah Islamic Center in West Jordan, Mar. 18, 2021.

I’ve come to rely on the CDC’s website as a repository for information about the pandemic. So, as an engaged youth environmentalist, I was surprised when I first learned that the CDC’s website also talks about climate change and the effects it has on our health.

I can’t help but be worried about what we brushed aside to make way for the COVID-19 response. Earth Day is here and it feels like we lost a year for taking steps to mitigate the oncoming effects of climate change on our health. A year seems like only a short time, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us we have less than a decade before effects are permanent. Climate must be a priority because our time left for action is precious. If no action is taken, the CDC says that air pollution exacerbated by climate change will potentially cause up to 4,300 additional premature deaths nationally per year by 2050.

Yes, handling COVID should be the priority focus of the government. But Utah should address COVID and climate change at the same time, with the same urgency because they both constitute threats to our health. We have to do both.

Around last Earth Day scientists proved that Utah’s air during the pandemic had lower levels of bad pollutants than average. Many were excited to implement coronavirus measures permanently that aid air quality solutions like staying home during bad air days. This all sounds great, but we have to remind ourselves that we are reverting back to old bad environmental habits. While 2020 Utah traffic was less than 2019 averages, looking to the new 2021 data it’s basically the same.

Global atmospheric carbon dioxide still rose in 2020 and led to 415.13 ppm of carbon dioxide in January 2021. Utah air quality is still going to be poor as we return to work (perhaps even worse) and the climate is changing.

About 13% of Utahns are in no particular rush to be vaccinated and 14% say they’ll never get vaccinated. This only constitutes a minority, but if there is resistance to vaccination in Utah there will be resistance to climate action yet we must realize climate affects health, too. And if climate is a concern for the health of our population, we need unity to combat it. You can get a vaccine against COVID-19 but you can’t vaccinate yourself against the effects of global warming.

Utah has the largest population by far under the age of 18 years old. We have the most at stake in this fight and our representatives, including Gov. Spencer Cox, have duties to protect the future of the state. As citizens to contact and demand that our representatives put climate and our health as priority.

If you’re unsure about what this looks like, here is my call to the governor in honor of Earth Day 2021:

Governor Cox, while the Utah Road Map on Climate and Air Quality isn’t a vaccine, it’s crucial for long-term health of all Utahns and I urge its implementation. I ask you to direct state agencies under your control to implement emissions reductions that will benefit our health for generations. I hope you understand the consequences of inaction and put your state first when thinking about its future. We deserve healthy lives ahead of us.

The pandemic’s light at the end of the tunnel may be in sight but the fight for a healthy future is long from over. Let’s start by calling for action by reaching out to representatives this Earth Day 2021.

Andie Madsen

Andie Madsen, Sandy, is attending Columbia University, online school from home, and has been engaged with the environmental activist community for the last few years with the youth group Utah Youth Environmental Solutions.