Read the stories from USA

Shauna Yellow Kidney from USA

If you follow the Old North Trail along the backbone of the world, you enter a realm unique for its breathtaking, rugged beauty. Within its borders lay Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshal Wilderness and the sacred, Badger-Two Medicine. A place where stars, sky and mountain peaks meet, our people blessed with a superabundance of traditional knowledge and strength: Blackfeet country. In this place of our ancestors, my son’s story nearly came to an end. Our family spends as much time as we possibly can back home, gathering medicine, picking berries, roots and attending ceremony. This summer while camped ‘where God likes to be,’ I witnessed my baby becoming less and less the rambunctious boy I love. He was lethargic, sullen and lacked his usual joy in everything. As I watched him closely, I knew something was very wrong. A couple days and a couple nights of this turned his whimpers and wheezing into sounding bells. So that last night I decided to take him to the clinic after our work was completed the next day. That morning, I noticed the retractions of labored breathing and lifelessness had crept into his beautiful brown eyes. I left my daughters in the care of my family, immediately rushing him to the Blackfeet Community Hospital ER, where he was quickly life-flighted by plane to a larger hospital, able to provide greater medical intervention. I can’t share the details of what I witnessed. What I can share is that, as his mother (and as a previous employee of a level one trauma center) I understood the doctor’s whispers and grave warning of possible immediate intubation. My son’s story did not end that day and I will forever be grateful beyond comprehension that it did not. The cause? Bronchiolitis and reactive airway disease. In mere days, the weeks we had intended to spend together as a family in our traditional way, vanished into smoke. Wildfire smoke inhalation was the source his exacerbated symptoms that resulted in my 1-year-old son’s life-threatening respiratory distress. Never had we seen smoke like this, our lands are changing and we wonder what future our children have. A wildfire (set by a man), impacted and nearly devastated our family. Climate change (given rise to by mankind) will impact, then devastate our entire world… unless we decide to unite, immediately to heal and protect the sacred.

Shannon from USA

I've cared about the Earth and it's future since I was a little kid - way back to third grade, when I found out my favorite species was endangered. I kept that interest into adulthood. While it was harder to keep it up when I became a mom, it became more urgent than ever. I was always concerned about future generations, but now my kids were counting on me personally. I act to fight climate change and protect our water and air for my kids and all kids around the world. Closing my eyes, I can imagine the fear of a mother running with her child from a wildfire or seeing rising waters in a hurricane or suffering in a heatwave without air conditioning. No one should have to face that fear, especially not that caused and worsened by humans.

Winona Bateman from USA

Our legacy: the air we leave them to breathe

In early August 2021, as my family traveled down the spine of the Rocky Mountains, smoke hung in the air for nearly all 1,200 miles. In Salt Lake City, under a thick blanket of gray wildfire smoke and car exhaust pollution, we spotted a sign advising, “Water to survive, not thrive.” This sums our grim summer in the western U.S., and describes one possible future.

In Montana, families suffered 90+ temps for weeks, extreme drought, wildfires, and thick smoke. Families watched the air quality index closely each day to determine if their kids could play outside safely, and for how long. Camps that could be moved indoors did so. Some outdoor-only camps ran anyway, with parents left to make tough decisions between needed childcare and increased smoke exposure for their children. Those of us with privilege and flexibility kept our kids home. Most families don't have this option. Friends of mine rushed their children to the Emergency Room at a local hospital when their child's breathing became labored and needed support. One particularly bad smoke day, after taking a short time to play outside (after days of being sequestered inside) and begging me to play outside "just a little longer mama," my daughter acquired a hacking cough that lasted hours. It was heartbreaking, and could have been worse.

Montana's state nickname is "Big Sky Country." But this summer, our big beautiful sky was blotted out for weeks. Given that Montana is a hot spot for the climate crisis, warming faster than the global average, if we do not take bold action to end greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, this summer is likely a mild preview of what’s to come. Our children and grandchildren will certainly measure our care for them by the air we leave them to breathe.

Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan from USA

Wildfire season started early this year for us in Missoula, Montana. I was skipping rocks with my almost-four-year-old son at Rattlesnake Creek when a telltale haze began to blur the edges of the nearby hills—smoke from wildfires already burning in the region. It was July 10, much earlier than it’s supposed to be. But clearly, things won’t be as they’re supposed to anymore.

A climate change-fueled megadrought has been parching the West for years. We’d been told to expect more frequent and intense wildfires because of it, and this year, we really felt it. I can’t count the number of times the air quality tipped into the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” or “unhealthy” categories, as smoke from fires as far away as California and Oregon settled in our valley. Those were hard days. We didn’t want to expose our two kids (we also have an 18-month-old daughter) to the choking particulate matter hanging in the air, so holed up inside our house for days on end. My daughter would grab her shoes, carry them to the door, and cry, not understanding why we couldn’t play outside. My son would shout, “I hate smoke season!” when we once again tried to explain why he couldn’t go swimming, to the playground, to the farmers’ market.

Even with our three air purifiers running around the clock, I worried about the smoke that was undoubtedly seeping into my son’s preschool, the grocery store, the library, and anywhere else we tried to go. I pictured the smoke’s particulate matter piling up in my kids’ bloodstreams with every breath they took, setting off a dangerous inflammatory response in their little bodies. Every child deserves clean air to breathe and the chance to play freely outside. Too often, the children in the West this summer did not get that chance.

Some might say we just had a bad summer. But I’m afraid an awful smoke season is here to stay. Next summer could be worse—and summers after that will be worse, if we don’t take drastic action to eliminate fossil fuels and curb climate change right now. I’m afraid our beautiful home will be uninhabitable during my kids’ lifetimes. We can’t let that happen.

Elizabeth Hauptman from USA

My son has asthma, and his disease is made worse by air pollution. In the summertime, we need to watch our weather app to see if it’s safe for our son to play outdoors. On hot days, when the air quality is terrible, I know that he’s going to have a tough day. As a mother who has seen the fear in her son's face as his chest tightens and he gasps to breathe, we must do more to protect him and children who suffer from this chronic illness.

Far too many times, I have had the experience of seeing my child gasp for air in the throes of an asthma attack. My son developed asthma at age three. During his attacks, he fights for every breath, a sign that his lungs are working too hard, too inefficiently, to support his heart and other vital organs. Several times we have landed in the emergency room. Far too often I have had to rush my son home after a soccer game or swimming on hot summer days to use his nebulizer and get his asthma under control. As I parent, I want to do whatever I can to help ease my son’s disease.

We live in Michigan, which has some of the worst rates of asthma in the country, according to the American Lung Association. Childhood asthma rates are significantly higher for children of color. Latino children are twice as likely to die from asthma, and Black children are 10 times more likely to die from asthma than white, non-Hispanic kids. These statistics make it abundantly clear that clean air is an environmental and social justice issue.

I regularly monitor the air quality index in Livingston County. When pollution levels get too high, I need to keep my son inside to avoid exposure. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, I am making immediate life and death decisions on whether or not we go outside.

Because of my son and the over 166,000 children in Michigan who suffer from asthma, we need more protective air quality standards to protect our children from air pollution. Pollution harms all of us, but it disproportionately impacts children. Kids are smaller, living closer to the ground than the rest of us, standing just about tailpipe high, where concentrations of pollution from cars, trucks, and buses is coming directly at them. Children’s still developing heart and lungs are being exposed to dirty exhaust from vehicles that spew carcinogenic poisons in the air. This tailpipe pollution causes poor air quality that can exacerbate asthma, causing more asthma attacks, resulting in millions of missed school days, games and outdoor family events for kids across the country.

I’m raising my voice with Moms Clean Air Force on behalf of the six million children in the U.S. with asthma. All of us with lung problems are more vulnerable to health impacts of air pollution.

Shaina Oliver from USA

I live on the ancestral lands of the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Ute Nations., including the 45 tribes that once occupied the state of Colorado. I am a field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force and EcoMadres of Colorado Chapter. I am an advocate for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to clean air, water, lands, and health.

Most importantly I am an Indigenous mother of four, we are the descendants of the genocide known as the “Indian Removal Act”, known to the Dineh as “the long walk of the Navajo”. These types of policy violations have run a long historic impact on Indigenous peoples’, community, health, wealth, and environmental wellbeing. Its impacts continue to be felt today in the form of lack of consultation and consent with Indigenous leaders, extractive capitalism decisions made about resource extraction continue to hurt our communities, and environmental racism that we see in our communities as people of color, often as low-income community members. As a tribal member I have seen the devastation of degraded lands and the dwindling flocks of the birds, butterflies, and bees. Our Ancestral lands continue to be sacrificed for mining, drilling, and infrastructure of all sorts.

As a Colorado resident, myself and my family have experienced the worst air quality this past summer of air quality index above 120, according to IQAir reported by 9news Colorado.

It is Indigenous, Black, Latino, and low-income communities who bear the disproportionate burden of air pollution. Segregation has led to our communities being located by highways and industrial zones that impact our health. Many people, like me, bear the health burdens of pollution, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illnesses, cancer, and adverse birth outcomes. COVID 19 has become one more health burden our communities disproportionately bear.

And I’ve been living with asthma since my infancy. Worsening air quality due to heat and wildfires related to climate change has a direct impact on my ability to breathe. Protective policies that clean up air pollution will save lives in communities like mine. Over 26 million people in the United States are burdened with asthma, including more than 6 million children. With recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, confirms that climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying,” reconfirming the warnings Indigenous knowledge keepers have been raising for years. We must think of our next generations future and livability standards and access to clean air, water, soil, and health.

Molly Rauch from USA

I am the mom of three teenagers in Washington DC. I had asthma as a child, but by the time I became a mom, I hadn’t had any symptoms for many years. When I moved to DC as an adult, I started having breathing problems again. I realized that my breathing was most labored on bad air days. Now I am careful to avoid spending time outside when there are air quality alerts.

DC has a long history of air pollution problems. Due to prevailing weather patterns here, we get a lot of the air pollution drifting in from other states. My children have grown up breathing polluted air. Luckily, they don’t have major health issues, but I know that even low levels of air pollution can harm their health over time. I get frustrated because this pollution is harmful, and it’s preventable, and yet our kids still have to breathe it. It shouldn’t have to be my job to keep track of air quality monitors and follow air quality alerts.

DC’s biggest air pollution problem is smog, or ground level ozone. Smog forms when certain chemicals react with sunlight and heat in the atmosphere. Because heat makes smog worse, this is a climate change problem. As climate change worsens, smog levels will go up in US cities and around the world. We are already seeing this happen in some parts of the US.

The latest IPCC report has affirmed that we are living in an unequivocal climate crisis. But we don’t need a UN report to tell us what so many of us are experiencing in our own communities: searing heat waves, staggering wildfires, and terrible floods, unprecedented rainfall, choking drought.

My teenage son is an athlete who trains outside in the summer. His football team practices outside in the heat. We have had several heat emergency days, including code orange air days for ozone. A code orange day means that the air is dangerous to breathe for sensitive populations. Who is sensitive? Children, anyone who works outside, athletes, pregnant women, people with asthma, people who have had COVID, anyone with heart disease or diabetes or obesity or any other underlying condition. On code orange air days, we all have someone we love for whom the air is dangerous to breathe.

Here in DC, we have a historical average of 11 dangerously hot days each year. In the 2020s, we are projected to have 18 each year. By the 2050s, heat emergencies in DC are projected to increase to 30-45 days. This is hard on my son’s body, and it will harm the health of athletes like him in the future.

My three children are the reason I fight for clean air, and they are the reason I work for Moms Clean Air Force.

Yaritza Perez from USA

I am Yaritza Perez, from Orlando, Florida. As a second-generation Puerto Rican, I get to represent the state of Florida as a field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force. I am a Floridian, a Latina, a United States Marine Corps veteran, and most importantly, a mother.

There are close to 2 million Latinos living within a half mile of existing oil and gas facilities. Due to high levels of poverty, low levels of health insurance, and lack of access to adequate health care, Latinos are disproportionately burdened by the health impacts from methane and other air pollution. Latinos experience over 153,000 asthma attacks and over 112,000 missed school days each year due to oil and gas air pollution. Rates of asthma are often higher in Latino communities. Latinos are three times more likely to be negatively affected by air pollution because of where they live and work. We live in counties that are frequently violating ground-level ozone standards. We are literally living in environments and communities that are toxic and full of contaminants that are harmful to our children’s lungs.

We owe it to our children and to their future to clean up the air. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our parents and grandparents who sacrificed so much for us to be here. This is a basic human right. I should feel comfortable when stepping outside knowing that the air is clean. Knowing that I sacrificed 12 years of selfless service to this country only to be treated as a second-class citizen will be no more. Latinos have sacrificed our children for generations in honor and service to this country, and we deserve to come back to a healthy clean land. No matter where that land is.

The current climate crisis has caused millions to migrate to the state of Florida to seek refuge and stability. In order to welcome those families, we must provide and implement drastic change now. We have had veterans who have fought wars abroad only to come home and die from a toxic environment and bad health care. Latino children are 40% more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino whites and nearly 10% of Latino children under the age of 18 suffer from chronic respiratory illness.

The time for change is now.

Celerah Hughes from USA

New Mexico is known for its beautiful skies and outdoor spaces, but Albuquerque continues to receive failing ozone grades in the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report.

Climate change is greatly impacting New Mexico and the Southwest with drought and longer, more intense wildfire seasons, and increased heat waves that threaten the health of New Mexico families. We have seen rising heat and climate impacts, including wildfires that were causing air pollution from fires over 400 miles away. This summer, the wildfires burning in Arizona put Albuquerque on a public health alert as smoke and particulates traveled hundreds of miles. As a member of Moms Clean Air Force, I have had the opportunity to speak with elected leaders and government agencies about these issues, because we must make them understand the urgency of climate change.

On her first day of summer camp, my eight-year-old daughter suffered from heat stroke as we saw the beginning of a heat wave hitting the Southwest. On the third day, I had to explain that she could not play outside because the air was dirty from smoke and particulate matter caused wildfires in another state. This August, we have had numerous days where Air Quality officials have told us the air outside is unhealthy due to smoke and ozone and our skies are so thick with particulate matter, we cannot see the Sandia Mountains. Our children now have to spend large portions of the summer inside because the air outside is dangerous to breathe.

We have to make a change now, before this becomes the new normal.

Julie Kimmel from USA

I am the parent of a sensitive and energetic six-year-old daughter. I live with my daughter and husband in Reston, a Northern Virginia suburb of DC. I also grew up here in Reston. I am a project manager for Moms Clean Air Force.

For as long as I can remember, traffic congestion has been a major issue in Northern Virginia, and cars and trucks are certainly our largest source of air pollution.

Climate change is already affecting communities across our state. Over the last decade, we’ve had several severe wind storms—a phenomenon I don’t recall from my childhood here. We’ve also seen multiple so-called 100-year rain storms. And the annual number of days when temperatures soar past 90 degrees is growing.

My daughter just started first grade. The absolute biggest joy of her life is meeting her friends after school outside at our neighborhood playground. They play make believe and build shelters for bugs. They jump rope and throw frisbees. Playing outdoors is so important for children—they learn how to be cooperative, compassionate humans on the playground.

But when temperatures climb past 95 degrees, I have to ask my daughter to stay inside. She plays hard, overheats easily, and I do not want to risk a trip to the emergency room for heat-related illness.

It’s not just me and my kid and my neighbors. Families across the country are losing so much valuable play and school time to extreme storms, extreme heat, and wildfires—thanks to climate change. And this on top of the education crisis we’re facing because of COVID.

I am worried about the impacts of climate change on my daughter’s education, health, and future.


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