If we want a healthy California, it’s time to embrace a 100 percent renewable energy future. Senate Bill 100 — which will be up for a vote in the state legislature shortly after the summer recess — would do just that.

Climate change is the greatest health challenge of this century, according to the Lancet Commission it is a medical emergency. While the health impacts of climate change affect us all, they disproportionately affect the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Climate change threatens the systems on which human life depends — our air, water, food, shelter, and security.

Our energy system is one of the biggest sources of climate pollution. So, the faster we transition from the dirty energy sources of the past to clean, renewable energy, the better able we will be to protect our communities from large-scale climate catastrophe (think coastal flooding, extreme heat, wildfires and storms, and widespread food and water shortages).

As health professionals, we see the impacts of fossil fuel dependence every day — whether it is asthma attacks exacerbated by air pollution or heat-related illnesses due to a warming climate. These health impacts are expected to only worsen with rising temperatures.

Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by air pollution generated by fossil fuel use. In California, for example, asthma is about 30 percent more prevalent among African-Americans than among Caucasians; rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than 40 percent higher than among whites.

Switching to cleaner energy sources and renewable electricity can address these health inequities while alleviating much suffering and saving lives.

Even “cleaner” natural gas takes a toll on public health. Extraction, storage, and transport of natural gas results in emissions of particulate matter, methane, and volatile organic compounds — including the carcinogen benzene. Methane and volatile organic compounds also contribute to ground-level ozone (smog). California residents are no strangers to the health and safety risks of natural gas, as witnessed by the illness and forced evacuations resulting from the massive methane leak at Aliso Canyon and the tragic loss of life and homes in San Bruno. Reducing our reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels by switching to renewable energy will reduce these risks.

With the recent withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, California’s national and global leadership in reducing climate pollution becomes even more important. SB 100, introduced by Senate Leader Kevin de León, would make California the second state, after Hawaii, to commit to transition to 100 percent renewable energy and zero-carbon sources for electricity by midcentury.

Switching from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean, safe, renewable energy — like wind, solar and hydroelectric — is one of the most important things we can do for the climate, for the health of our communities now, and for the health of future generations. We must contact our legislators and demand no less.

Richard Allen Williams, M.D. is president of the National Medical Association and Founder, Association of Black Cardiologists. Mary Pittman, Dr.P.H. is president of the Public Health Institute. They wrote this for the Island Press Urban Resilience Project. (Editor's note: This item has been modified from its original form to update the publication for which the authors wrote this piece).

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