This was written by Jennifer Ann Cantley, Shaina Oliver and Columba Sainz:
Earlier this month, hundreds of moms, dads, kids, and activists travelled to Washington, D.C. from 25 states all across the country for our annual playdate on Capitol Hill. But it’s only part fun and games; the real reason we travelled from near and far is to demand that lawmakers protect our kids from the pollution that is putting them at severe risk of illness and early death. We carried this important message into the halls of Congress in close to 100 House and Senate meetings.
The pollution that results from continued reliance on fossil fuels is causing the global temperature to rise and stoking extreme weather. And it’s releasing invisible poisons into the air we breathe, leading to alarming rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancers and other diseases.
It’s beyond time for the United States to speed up the transition to a 100% clean energy-fuelled economy by 2050. The benefits of slashing the pollution causing climate change are enormous. It will improve the health of communities across the country. It will create clean energy jobs. And it will safeguard our children’s future.
Asthma is now the most common chronic disease in the country among children, affecting over 8 percent of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease costs more than $80 billion a year in missed school and work days and early death, according to a study published last year in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
These statistics are stark. But the reasons we went to play on Capitol Hill are personal. For the three of us, we are seeing, feeling and coping with the debilitating effects of air pollution in our homes every day.
Jennifer Ann and her eight-year-old son, Gabriel, both have asthma and carry inhalers wherever they go. They live in Carson City, Nevada, nestled in a valley where smoke from wildfires has reduced the time she and her five children can recreate outdoors.
This is particularly hard on Gabriel, an avid soccer player. As a two-year-old, he was sent home from a hospital emergency room with an oxygen tank. Now he stays indoors during “code red” air quality days, although he has difficulty breathing even on “code yellow” days.
Shaina grew up next to mining and oil and gas drilling operations in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, and she has witnessed the effects of the uranium dust and other pollutants over several generations. She developed asthma as an infant and was forced to stay indoors whenever the air quality was bad.
Now Shaina, an indigenous rights advocate, lives with her husband and four children in Denver, Colorado. The city depends heavily on cars and trucks, so air pollution is a persistent problem. On days when the air is too polluted to breathe, she is forced to keep her family indoors.
Columba lives with her husband and three children across the street from a park in Phoenix, Arizona. Yet the pollution from nearby school buses, airplanes, trains, freeways and construction forces Columba to limit the time her kids play outside, especially when the heat spikes.
Columba’s oldest daughter, also named Columba, was not born with a respiratory condition but started wheezing at the age of two. The more time Columba, now 4, spends outside, the worse it gets. At her pediatrician’s recommendation, her mother changes the air filters in her home every two weeks.
Our cases are not unique. As of this year, just over 141 million people in America — or 43.3 percent — lived in counties with unhealthy levels of smog or particle pollution, the American Lung Association reported in April. That’s 7.2 million more than last year.
It’s our obligation as moms to speak up. Moms across the country want to see bold leadership on climate change and air pollution. Moms want their children, and every child, to breathe clean air without the risk of stunting lungs or shortening life.