Archive for April, 2011

My open letter to Senator Mark Kirk

Contributed by Dr. Sarah Warren

Dear Senator Kirk,

As the founder of Spheres of Influence, I am writing to welcome you to the US Senate.

I am one of many health care professionals and parents– many of whom, like me, are “unlikely environmentalists”– who are profoundly concerned about how the emissions from our tailpipes and smokestacks threaten our children’s health and quality of life– now and in the future.

We are already experiencing the consequences of our addiction to coal and oil — from canceled flights and giant potholes to longer cold and flu seasons to the Cubs being flooded out. We are experiencing bizarre weather — mudslides and frozen crops in CA, snow storms in DC, and thundersnow– normally a rare event– in numerous places around the country this winter. Yesterday, April 5, 2011 broke records for severe weather nationally: a record 1,210 severe weather reports were received including 23 tornadoes, 887 wind, and 300 hail reports ( According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, severe flooding in 2008 alone cost Illinois and Iowa farmers billions in lost revenues ( The snow storm – or perhaps I should call it the hurricane with snow– that shut down Lake Shore Drive this winter… This is what I call “global weirdness.” It’s here, it’s now. And it impacts our health because, among other things, it creates high levels of stress.

We now have models that can determine how much our use of fossil fuels contributes to a given extreme weather event. MacArthur Foundation grantee Dr. Ben Santer has developed an attribution method which is described here: If you’ve not seen this video, I invite you to watch as Dr. Santer explains how they calculate the impacts of C02 emissions on specific extreme weather events

Both businesses and our health are impacted not just by costly weather disruptions but by the “pickling” effects of our emissions. Our increasingly acidic ocean is already impacting the entire ocean food chain, from plankton to lobsters to whales. The seafood industry is imperiled, as are related industries such as restaurants. If we keep moving on the same trajectory, this means that moms may not be able to feed their kids tuna sandwiches, Shaw’s may not be able to serve crab, and McDonald’s won’t be able to serve fish sandwiches. As a healthcare professional, I anticipate not just the loss of a way of life and loss of business opportunity, but the loss a whole class of food that is beneficial to our health– our brain function and our heart health. I am not alone in wanting to ensure that our sons and daughters can eat salmon and see whales in the ocean. The beautiful film A Sea Change ( tells the story as a love letter to the filmmaker’s grandson.

The policy solution translates into incentivizing clean renewable energy and no longer subsidizing fossil fuels.

It also means….

… shutting down or cleaning up polluting coal plants that are so prevalent in Illinois.

… not approving new coal plants.

… improving our transportation infrastructure so that we are less reliant on cars.

… aggressively continuing to raise fuel efficiency standards, including for trucks.

… ensuring that the Clean Air Act, which has protected our health for decades, is not gutted.

… emulating the New England states which have been successfully implementing new energy standards.

… ensuring that the EPA is empowered to protect families from environmental harms such as the impacts of C02 emissions.

… shifting off ethanol which is only 2% more efficient than gasoline.

… factoring in the hidden costs of coal– including the loss of miners’ lives and the health care costs of asthma and other respiratory conditions to the residents– especially the young– near the coal-fired power plants in Chicago and elsewhere.

According to Mark Hertsgaard, author of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, the pollution from our addiction to fossil fuels has already raised global temperatures and will have inevitable impacts– for Illinois, that means more heat waves and severe storms. So we need to follow the lead of the Department of Defense and our own City of Chicago in preparing statewide and nationally. As a practicing psychologist, I can say that one key area of need is improvement of delivery of mental health services for residents who are acutely stressed by extreme weather events. In addition, we need to improve telehealth delivery because extreme weather events can impede travel to health care delivery sites.

Our children’s health is threatened not just by heat waves soot from coal plants but by wars that loom on the horizon, not just over oil but over water. I don’t want my two young rascals drafted into wars over oil and water. I am completely certain that I am not alone in that.

You voted for Cap and Trade legislation in 2009 when you were in Congress– but have waffled since then.

We can sidestep ideological debate– in fact, we must. This is not just a bipartisan issue, this is a human health crisis, a business opportunity, a moral imperative, a national security threat, and a legacy opportunity to do right by our children and grandchildren. My legacy– and yours– is at stake.

The parents and business owners of Illinois are counting on you to protect our national security, the integrity of our food supply, our business interests– and critically, our children’s health.

Your spheres of influence as a US Senator are considerable, and vital to our children’s future. I look forward to constructive dialogue on these crucial and urgent matters.

I am meeting with your legislative assistant, Robert Johnson, in the District this month, and look forward to meeting with you when you are in the District.

I look forward to a fruitful relationship with you.

Our children are counting on you. Because we have exactly enough time– starting now.

Respectfully Yours,

Sarah B. Warren, Ph.D.

Founder, Spheres of Influence

April 6, 2011 at 11:25 pm Leave a comment

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