The fight for a breath of fresh air

A smog-tinged view in black and white of Century City, Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles. (Photo: Trekandshoot, via Shutterstock)

What can you do for a kid who wants to play soccer but can’t, because air pollution and the child’s asthma don’t mix on bad air days? It’s the kind of question that comes up regularly for me, as a doctor specializing in asthma and allergies.

Every day at our Los Angeles clinic, we see how Southern California’s infamous air pollution hurts California families http://bambawefushia.com/voksen-kjaerlighet/. My little patients tell me that some days, even walking to the bus stop can be a challenge. Parents who live near freeways ask whether pollution from cars and trucks is making their children sicker. And even if those parents do everything right — ensure that their children take their medications and avoid allergens, take pains to keep indoor air quality as high as possible — they are at the mercy of factors they cannot control. Their children have to breathe, and the air isn’t always safe.

A Lung Association study projects that by 2025, these two policies will remove thousands of tons of toxic particles from our air.

That’s why the newly released expenditures by the oil industry to lobby against clean air laws feels personal to me. In 2015, they directed a record amount – an unprecedented $22 million – into preventing new statewide commitments to cut petroleum use and attempts to roll back policies to diversify and clean up our transportation fuels and other energy sources. Unfortunately, some legislators gave in to the pressure. The families I see every day, who are concerned with pollution from the cars, trucks, buses and freight that traverse our region and are at the mercy of the air quality in their district, have virtually no voice against the volume of that spending. Their ability to respond to the misleading oil industry rhetoric appearing in every mailbox on every block around the state is severely limited.

The good news is that despite the boatloads of money dumped in Sacramento, the people of California and the legislators who protect their interests also had some huge wins this year. As I’ve learned through my work with the American Lung Association in California, we are slowly but surely making real progress.  And this year, our state moved decisively in the direction of cleaner air. That is a fact worth celebrating. For the sake of all of Californians, young and old, we need to keep up the fight.

In 2015, transportation fuels – including gasoline and diesel – came under California’s AB 32 cap-and-trade program, despite fear mongering about what this might do to gas prices. And in the wake of a court challenge, California readopted its innovative Low Carbon Fuel Standard. A Lung Association study projects that by 2025, these two policies will remove thousands of tons of toxic particles from our air, preventing 600 heart attacks, 880 premature deaths, and 38,000 asthma attacks, while avoiding tens of thousands of lost school days and work days.  In total, Californians will save $8.3 billion in avoided respiratory health costs.

Also in 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 350 (De León) into law, committing California to generate half of its energy from clean, renewable sources by 2030, while boosting energy efficiency in buildings by 50 percent. That means less pollution from burning fossil fuels, and cleaner air for all Californians.

The bad news is that the oil industry remains intent on derailing these policies, no matter the cost. These companies sense that, as we accelerate the means to clean up transportation fuels, their days are numbered. That’s why doctors like myself must respond strongly. Remember this: despite our successes, California suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country. So when oil companies set new records spending vast sums lobbying to block efforts to clean it up – and when policymakers go along with them– it negatively affects all of us.

Still, I am proud of California’s pioneering policies on climate, clean energy, and air quality. Leaders elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world keep an eye on what we do, and often follow our lead. So the policies we put in place to clean our air and protect our health echo far beyond our state.

In California, we are on the right track toward breathing better today while stabilizing the climate for future generations.  As 2016 ticks on, and the Legislature once again considers extending the benefits of AB 32 beyond 2020, and all of us make decisions about how we will get from place to place and how we power our lives, let’s stay on track. Our children deserve no less.

Ed’s Note: Sonal Patel, M.D., is a pediatric asthma and allergy specialist practicing with Adventist Health Physicians Network in East Los Angeles.

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