Curing runny noses and climate change

By Adam McMillen 

It was the third trip to our family doctor this year, well into July, a month later than the typical allergy season – and my son still was having a runny, bloody nose and sore throat. Being the HVAC nerd that I am, I have electrostatic filtration and an energy recovery ventilation unit in our home. I have been monitoring air quality and feel pretty good about our indoor environment. Despite all of this, I was still questioning other issues that could live inside my home. In speaking with our doctor on this trip, she said that, 1) it sounds like your child spends a lot of time outside, and 2) we are not alone.  

Extended rains and cool temperatures in the upper Midwest made this year’s allergy season the longest and worst on record. While our doctor didn’t use the phrase “climate change,” I came to realize that these conditions may be a new reality for my son. This was later confirmed in a recent webinar in the ACEEE series on Health, Environment, and Energy. Among other things, the webinar reported that many doctors are starting to use the phrase “climate change” and it is hitting all so close to home.  

Historic messaging about climate change – typically from politicians and activists – focuses on polar bears, penguins and arctic ice. Now our doctors are telling the story of adverse effects on human health. The Medical Society Consortium’s recently published document, “Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming our Health,” tells the story for all people, no matter where we live. Extreme heat and rain events, wild-fire air pollution, increasing tick populations, food contamination, and other effects of climate change affect our mental and physical health in many ways. 

As for my son’s allergies, I gave him stuff to squirt up his nose and our doctor suggested a couple pills to take – quite a cocktail that I reluctantly followed because he needed relief and I refused to make him stay inside. But I don’t want to be reactive; I want to stop it at the source. I also know there are more environmental issues to protect beyond one child’s runny nose.  

So, what can we, as engineers, do for society? As outlined in ACEEE webinar, the solution is the same one we have been discussing for 40 years: energy efficiency and clean energy. 

Energy efficiency is about more than simple payback and higher lease rates, however, and more than being one of the fastest growing job sectors of our economy. Each measure we implement to reduce carbon, every building that uses its equipment just a little more efficiently, every energy analysis we proactively conduct to save time, energy, and money – every one of these actions will make the climate a little bit better in the future.  

This is the part of the fix that is right within our reach. Not only does it help your family, each single act will simultaneously help every family on the planet. How powerful is that?