"It's why I do what I do," says Kath Schomaker, outreach director for Gray Is Green, as she sets off on a trip this week and next to several midwestern states to meet and talk with seniors about the Clean Air Promise Campaign. "I may be nearing retirement, but now more than ever I feel the need to be active on the matter of our environment and our shared responsibility as stewards to leave the places we love and the clean air and water we need for good health intact for future generations."
"It was my generation, after all," Kath reminds me, that some 40 or so years ago, bearing witness to mounting instances of environmental degradation and driven by a nonpartisan will to preserve our planet, "launched the modern environmental movement, passing our nations' first bedrock laws to regulate pollution and protect our rights to a healthy environment."
Thanks to these foundational achievements, Kath notes with pride, "the air we breathe is cleaner and the water we drink is safer. We pulled together as a nation to make that happen."
Recently, however, a misguided political movement, driven and funded by polluter interests unrestricted in their political spending, has launched a full-on assault on America’s environmental and public health safeguards. And it's got clean air protections square in its crosshairs.
Lobbyists for the polluters have been paid huge sums to push through Congress several bills that would limit the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) ability to enforce clean air standards that protect us from air pollution.
At the same time, polluters have been leaning hard on the agency to delay its plans to set tougher standards for mercury and other air pollutants, including ozone and soot. It is estimated that the new standards would save as many as 17,000 lives every year by 2016 and prevent up to 110,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms. The new safeguards also would avoid more than 12,000 emergency room and hospital visits and prevent 830,000 lost work days every year.
As you might expect, seniors are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution. In fact, medical researchers have found that seniors who are exposed to higher levels of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for pneumonia, a leading cause of illness and death in order adults. In addition, exposure to carbon monoxide increased the likelihood that seniors with heart problems would be hospitalized.
Other vulnerable subpopulations include children and pregnant women. Nearly 37 million children live in areas with unhealthy air due to ozone smog or soot pollution. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), children often have greater exposure than adults to airborne pollutants, because they are active outdoors more frequently, increasing their exposure to any pollutants in the air. In addition, children are often more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution because their immune systems and developing organs are still immature.
Watch, or better yet, listen, to this disturbing video produced by the ALA if you want to understand why our children need strong health and environmental protections.
Facts like these get Kath thinking about our legacy, and what sort of environment we are leaving for our children. "Clean air is our right and our responsibility," she says. "No one should be able to pollute our air, to take it away from us, particularly not from our children."
"How can anyone be against clean air?" an 80-something retirement community resident in Pennsylvania asks Kath.
That's why she is out informing seniors around the country about the Clean Air Promise. "People are looking for ways to show they care. They know it matters that we have strong environmental safeguards in place and that they not be dismantled." And they know we have no time left to act. "It's about time!" says a 60-plus entrepreneur Kath met in Vermont.
Making the Clean Air Promise is one of the simplest, most straightforward ways all of us can show we care. All one needs to do is go to CleanAirPromise.org and make this promise:
“I promise to protect America’s children and families from dangerous air pollution. I will support clean air policies and other protections that scientists and public health experts have recommended to the EPA to safeguard our air quality.”
Fact sheets about the campaign are available on the Gray Is Green website. Print them out and share them with your friends and neighbors. Schedule a meeting with your Congressional representatives while they're in the district, and bring the factsheets along. Get them to make the Clean Air Promise. If they hesitate, ask them, "How can anyone be against clean air?"