Solar Energy: A Sunny Forecast

by Barbara Gottlieb, Environment & Health Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility

The transition off fossil fuels — to slow climate change and to protect us from the pollution caused by burning methane, oil and coal — hinges on the availability of clean, safe, renewable alternatives.

Those alternatives are increasingly at hand and affordable.  Solar panels in particular are becoming a common sight around the country.  And here’s why:  the cost to produce a megawatt-hour of solar electricity fell by 86 percent between 2009 – 2017!

The expansion of solar energy has wonderful consequences for health.  First, as we stop burning fossil fuels, we slow the advance of climate change and its attendant threats to health and life: heat waves, extreme storms, floods, sea level rise, expanded vector range, and more.

Our health also gains from the reduction of conventional pollutants.  Particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and other byproducts of combustion contaminate the air, water and land when we burn fossil fuels.  They contribute to some of the leading causes of death in the United States–heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease — as well as other diseases.

Also, let’s not forget that solar installation, as a source of jobs that won’t get offshored from American communities, can be counted as another contributor to health. A steady job, especially with a family-supporting salary and benefits, helps assure access to food and lodging, health care, lowered levels of mental stress, and personal and community stability.

For a quick summary of solar energy’s advantages, read PSR’s handout, Solar Power:  A Force for Climate and Health.

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