Air pollution has long been a concern for me, but it was only last year (2020) that I really realized just HOW bad it is.
When I read heartbreaking stories of people who can't go outside - even into their own yards - because the exhaust from nearby roads and/or the smoke from neighbouring chimneys is preventing them from doing so (at least without damaging their health), it spurs me to act.
I was fortunate to meet several wonderful communities of dedicated activists fighting for clean air on all fronts, and thanks to them I have learned just how truly critical it is that the air in our communities remains clean, fresh, and breathable. Indeed, we cannot afford to postpone clean air solely for ideological or economic purposes, as doing so is an obvious fallacy that carries deadly consequences.
As the guardian of several young children and an older family member living with advanced COPD, I want to know that our leaders - the ones we rely on to protect us from harm - are willing to put partisan politics and ideologies aside to ensure that no one anywhere in the world is forced to breathe dirty air (at least involuntarily). There are multiple ways to get there, and all must be objectively evaluated and compared.
I would also like to see a special focus on phasing out the burning of solid fuels where alternatives exist, especially having grown up with a father who has - well, HAD (until recently) - a passion for burning wood during the colder months (when the house would fill with smoke and nosebleeds would be common).
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
I grew up with two brothers with severe asthma. I remember watching my mother try to stay calm when they would have an asthma attack, trying to keep them from panicking while waiting for their medication to take effect.
I’ve watched my niece struggle with the limits of her asthma, and the same look of fear and worry that captures her parents. My son and I have somehow escaped chronic asthma, but face it when we’re sick. Watching people you love struggle to breathe is terrifying. Once you’ve experienced it, you don’t take clean air or healthy lungs for granted.
As the climate emergency intensifies, I’m trying to learn from the way my mother responded to my brothers’ asthma attacks. I’m trying to stay calm. It’s not easy. It’s hard to focus on solutions while more people are losing their lives and homes to forest fires, heat waves, flooding, drought and severe storms. And knowing there are other related problems, like air pollution which will continue to threaten our kids.
Air pollution is a massive public health problem. It also hurts marginalized communities more. Systemic racism and classism means lawmakers and corporations’ think it’s ok to hurt some families, while protecting or shielding others. For example, it’s somehow allowed to pollute the air and water around Indigenous families in Alberta’s Tar Sands and Ontario’s Chemical Valley. Environmental racism in Canada is real and it means that people in power externalize the costs of environmental impacts, and marginalized families pay for it with their lives and health.
All of these disturbing truths become harder to face when you become a parent. I worry about how much worse it’s going to get for my son and his generation. Friends in Western Canada relay terrifying stories of their families on COVID-19 stay at home orders, while their community is engulfed in smoke from nearby forest fires. I’ve seen that same smoke move all the way across Canada and make the sky dim and the sun above me turn an eerie hazy orange. The crisis is only getting worse.
What will it take before governments and corporations make the changes we need to transition away from an economy based on fossil fuels? What will it take to value clean air and a liveable, healthy planet over short term profit? As a parent, I’m trying not to panic. I’m reaching for the metaphorical oxygen masks within my grasp. And I’m working on the root causes. Pressuring power holders, gatekeepers, and building power for real change. The change we so desperately need for our kids.