As the mom of an asthmatic child, I follow news about air quality and climate change very closely. That’s why I found a new study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California quite disturbing. The report authors say that the great strides our state made in the fight against dirty air and climate change are being undermined by China’s pollution wafting across the Pacific.
Chemicals found in air pollution combine with ultraviolet radiation from the sun to form ozone, a volatile organic compound that contributes to the formation of smog. Researchers were surprised to find no significant decrease in ozone in California, despite successful rollout of groundbreaking climate legislation, including AB32 — because China’s air pollutants are drifting across the ocean. Although the impact of Chinese pollution on west coast air was limited during the 6-year study, scientists are concerned the impacts will increase over time as China – and other Asian Pacific countries economies — continue to grow.
This pollutant drift definitively proves air pollution and climate change need to be addressed on a global level. We need to move toward a carbon-neutral planet by mid-century to have any chance of keeping climate change below catastrophic levels. With climate impacts already mounting across the world at current levels of global warming — including what NASA JPL has dubbed the “godzilla” El Nino forming in the Pacific at this very moment — we need international leadership on climate change, in addition to local and regional action. The international climate conference at the end of this year in Paris must produce a meaningful global framework for halting climate change.
In the short term, there are signs of hope that China’s pollution levels will start to go down soon. China’s next five year plan (2016-2020) will include higher renewable energy targets and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, earlier this year China announced an agreement with the Obama administration to peak emissions by 2030, among other climate-saving actions. China is slowly but surely changing its ways – partly due to international pressure, but largely as a result of pressure from its citizens who are sick – literally – of their children breathing dirty air.
Californians shouldn’t become disheartened. With national leadership by the Obama administration and the economic gains from California’s cap and trade regime, we can show China the way forward.
Parents deserve the right to know whether the air is safe to breathe. It doesn’t matter to moms and our kids whether that pollution is from international transport or from local sources. We need standards that will protect little lungs.