My mom wants climate action, not breakfast in bed

From left to right: Me, my sister and my mom on Mother’s Day 1994. Coronado National Forest, Arizona

Sunday is Mother’s Day. A day dedicated to celebrating the mothers in our lives — women who have sacrificed, inspired, protected and forced us to eat our vegetables.

My own mom is a retired teacher of the blind and visually impaired (HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MOM!). She always went beyond her role as educator — making sure her students were fed, safe and received the tools they needed to excel, despite their special needs.

I saw my mother fight tirelessly for her students for decades. But the one fight that has always left her feeling defenseless: being a parent to a child with asthma. I’ll never forget hearing my mom’s stories about caring for my sister during life threatening flare ups. On one particularly bad night, my mom ran carrying my blanket-wrapped sister into the emergency room. At first glance the doctor could tell my sister was near cardiac arrest — it took four shots of adrenaline before she could breathe again. In my mom’s words, “it was terrifying.” But trips to emergency room became commonplace as my sister’s asthma flare ups were exacerbated by poor air quality.

That was 1978. Although our air is cleaner than it was 40 years ago, air pollution is still a major threat to our health. And unlike some environmental health hazards, air pollution is unavoidable: even when we know it’s hurting us, we have no choice but to breathe it. Air pollution increases our risk of serious health problems, including premature death, heart attacks, asthma, and respiratory illness.

Everyone deserves clean air. That is why it is so outrageous that President Trump is taking an ax to the Environmental Protection Agency and gutting important policies that clean up our air.

According to a new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center, people living in 72 different metropolitan areas across America experienced at least 100 days with unhealthy levels of air pollution. People in those cities face an increased risk of premature death, asthma attacks, and other adverse health impacts.

And those statistics do not capture the full extent of the problem. People who live near local pollution “hotspots” face higher levels of pollution and even greater health risks. For example, people who live near busy roads are more likely to develop lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

It’s not just soot and smog we need to worry about. Global warming pollution is a major part of the problem too. Warming is extending the smog season throughout the year and driving dangerous smog levels up on hot days. Warming is also intensifying drought and making wildfires more frequent and intense — causing additional pollution that can travel hundreds of miles.

The United States can and must do better! It’s the year 2017. Instead of continuing to pollute the air, we can build a cleaner, greener, healthier country, where the air is safe for everyone and where the climate is stable and able to support healthy communities.

Even one day with unhealthy air is too many. And for people with asthma like my mom and sister, it’s a matter of life or death.

And yet we still see attacks on clean air in DC. We have an entrenched fossil fuel lobby willing to spend millions to protect its profits, and now they have an ally at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In just the first 100 days, the President has proposed slashing the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent and instructed the agency to rewrite the largest steps taken by the United States to cut dangerous global warming pollution: the Clean Power Plan and federal clean cars standards.

Make no mistake, these proposals would hurt our health. Trashing the Clean Power Plan alone will lead to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days across the country by 2030.

Parents have a lot on their plate, but worrying about clean air for their children shouldn’t be.

My sister and I live in the northeast, where we currently have a huge opportunity to cut power plant pollution. I’m urging our governors to double the strength of the most successful regional clean air and climate protection program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and not leave any pollution cuts on the table. And in the face of these dangerous actions from the Trump Administration, our senators must stand up for our health, too.

The more we cut pollution, the sooner dirty air days can become a thing of the past. Passing on a healthy planet to the next generation should be the top priority.

P.S. Check out Environment America’s new video featuring moms speaking out for clean air and climate action to protect their kids’ health.

Madeline Page is the outreach director for Environment America’s climate program. She works with key constituencies, Environment America’s 29 state organizations and global warming organizers to win clean air and climate protections across the country.