WASHINGTON — So, we have just learned that not only are we destroying our planet much faster than we thought, but also we — and our children — are going to live a shorter life than we expected.
The U.S. decision to pull out of the international climate treaty, designed to reduce fossil fuel emissions destroying the protective atmosphere that keeps us from burning up, is spurring other countries to stop trying. If the world’s powerhouse economy is unwilling to do more to save the Earth, why should much poorer, struggling economies do more, they argue.
Within 30 years, 160 million people along highly populated coastlines in and some of the world’s largest cities will be fleeing for their lives. Millions more, including many in the U.S. breadbasket, will find droughts causing them to flee for their livelihoods.
In the last 100 years, lifespans grew longer and longer, as medical science boomed, as prevention of major diseases burgeoned and as such basics as clean water and air improved.
That is no longer true. Since 2010 there has been no improvement in the life expectancy of working-aged Americans.
There are many factors. Opioids. Suicides. Obesity. Texting while driving. The example of, perhaps, a president who is clinically obese and tweets while governing.
The life expectancy decline surprised demographers because it is happening across all ethnic and racial classes and is hitting more people in the prime of life. A new study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds the decline is not just in the cities but also in the suburbs.
Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University was quoted as saying, “The whole country is at a health disadvantage compared to other wealthy nations. We are losing people in the most productive period of their lives. Children are losing parents. Employers have a sicker work force.”
It’s a shock to Americans, traditionally at the forefront of historical progress, to find that we are lagging — seriously lagging behind — in such areas as infant mortality and maternal health.
We are startled that alcoholism, strokes, heart disease and obstructive pulmonary disease are rampant among the middle-aged middle-class even though the U.S. has the highest per capita health spending in the world.
According to the new study, the death rate from 2010 to 2017 for all causes among people ages 25 to 64 increased from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 348.2 deaths per 100,000.
When you look at the states with the greatest relative increases in death rates among young and middle-aged adults — New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia and Ohio, you see states where it used to be fairly easy to make a living in factories, coal mines or on farms and where it no longer is.
You begin to see a pattern of hopelessness spreading among young people — not children, who get Medicaid, nor the elderly, who get Medicare, but those in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
That pattern is unusual in America. You begin to see why suicides, drug addiction and alcoholism are taking such a high toll.
Against this is the backdrop of a growing global dismay about saving the world from catastrophic droughts, floods, deforestation, blizzards and temperature change absolutely and provably caused by manmade climate change. Donald Trump may cling pathetically to denial – the U.S. is now the only major country that denies it — but scientists do not, and the economic disaster and human suffering it will cause also are no longer deniable.
Greenhouse gas levels are increasing dramatically, not decreasing. Methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide levels now are at record levels. Even the notoriously greedy energy industry was appalled by proposed weakening of methane emission laws.
The news is dire but there are ways to fight climate change while researchers scramble for technological solutions. Young people know that.
There are also solutions to our health care crisis. Young people know that too.
We are stuck in a bad place right now but we can get out of it. National leadership really does work if it is visionary, dogged and competent.
We kept our split nation together. We defeated an evil empire. We rebuilt Europe. We went to the moon. We eradicated polio. We have accomplished the incredible. If we muster the national will, we can overcome huge obstacles.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.