Read the stories

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.

Natalie Caine from Canada

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.

Sara from Canary Islands

I'm Sara, mother of two healthy boys.

We are lucky because we live in the Canary Islands, a lovely place from where you can see blue sky and at nights we still can see the stars.

People live here thinking that air pollution is not our problem. But it is.

The most worrying thing is that we can't see the invisible enemy that our bodies breathe every single day. Our children's do too.

And when I look into my children's eyes I feel that they don't deserve the robbery of their present and their future.

They don't deserve the stealing of their lives that we are giving them.

They deserve Leaders that make all the possible and a little of the impossible to make policies that restore the Earth.

Policies that don't mean the least we can do.

All the children of the world need Leaders that fight against the Climate Emergency, people that take care of the planet, and parents that fight for their Future, and I want to be one of them."

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.

Mother from United Kingdom

I know the traffic fumes are poisonous, not because I am a doctor or a scientist, but because I have a nose. They just smell so bad, I feel as if I am choking on diesel sometimes. A while ago the government said we should put plastic covers over the pushchairs when we were doing the school run and I saw an advert with children in playgrounds wearing gas masks. It's scary but then we forget about it because what can we do? We can't wear gas masks and a plastic cover probably won't protect my 2 year old from the fumes, which come out of the cars at exactly her height. I cannot see how we can get rid of all these cars. People don't want to take the bus or the tube now because of COVID. I don't want my daughter to breathe these fumes. I try to keep the windows closed at home but they keep them open at the nursery. I try to imagine breathing clean air, but honestly in London the air stinks wherever I go. Its hard enough to keep going and keep up with life. I don't want to have to worry about her air.

Gargi from India

I am a mother to a boy who suffered from high fever and chronic cough problems from the age of 3. We had to take him to the doctor at midnight. He is 7 years old now but still cannot participate in games and sports due to the weak respiratory system.

Like any other mother, my primary concern is my child’s health. We have consulted with many renowned doctors of Kolkata. All of them said that the problem is very common. I am also suffering from frequent asthma attacks. But no doctor has a proper suggestion for this. According to all the doctors, the problem is in the air.

In recent days, doctors have started talking about the impact of pollution on human health. The way air pollution is affecting our lungs is beyond imagination. So, being a concerned mother did some study on air pollution and found out that One in eight deaths in India was attributable to air pollution in 2017 and in 1.24 million, the deaths caused by air pollution are more than the death caused by other diseases like diarrhoea, tuberculosis, HIV, or malaria.

From various reports posted by the Government and other institutions, it is very clear that air pollution is a serious problem. But it is not possible for me to fight this alone. Thus, we have to work on it together and make the earth a better place to live for our kids.

Mariana from Brazil

No meu país, a cada 100 mil crianças de 5 anos, 41 morrem anualmente devido à poluição do ar. No total, esse é o motivo por trás de 50 mil mortes por ano no Brasil.

Esse é o pior dado de um problema quase sempre invisível, que traz muitas outras consequências para as vidas de todos nós. Sabemos que 93% das crianças do mundo estão expostas a níveis de materiais particulados muito acima dos considerados seguros pela OMS. Além de complicações respiratórias crônicas, esses poluentes chegam às nossas correntes sanguíneas e, assim, causam diversos outros problemas de saúde.

Ainda dentro de nossas barrigas, nossos bebês podem sofrer com atrasos no crescimento e prematuridade. Em nossos filhos, a poluição prejudica suas conexões neurais, impactando em habilidades psicomotoras e desenvolvimento cognitivo. Nos adultos, a péssima qualidade do ar que respiramos está relacionada a mortes por doenças pulmonares, doenças cérebro-vasculares, doenças do coração e câncer do pulmão.

Eu cresci em uma das cidades mais poluídas do Brasil, São Paulo. Passei a vida sofrendo com crises alérgicas e respiratórias sem saber sua verdadeira causa. Quando meu segundo filho nasceu, decidi sair de São Paulo e a poluição foi um dos principais motivos. Me mudei para uma cidade menor e, milagrosamente minhas crises alérgicas desapareceram. Meus filhos crescem saudáveis e sem grandes problemas respiratórios, em contato direto com a natureza todos os dias.

Essa não é, no entanto, a realidade de muitas crianças que não têm a oportunidade de “fugir” dos lugares onde a poluição é pior. E, por elas, devemos agir. Foi o que pensamos quando formamos um grupo de mães dispostas a enfrentar os privilégios da indústria automobilística no Brasil.

Num país onde a taxa de desemprego é superior a 14% e onde 27 milhões de pessoas vivem na pobreza, sabemos que cada emprego é importante. Por isso, quando algumas empresas do setor automotivo de São Paulo ameaçaram fechar suas portas e deixar o Estado, o Governo correu para liberar dinheiro público para que elas mantivessem suas atividades. Em 2019, foi aprovada uma lei que concede subsídios ao setor automotivo na forma de financiamentos de até R$ 10 bilhões para a expansão de fábricas. Caso optem por pagar antecipadamente o valor, os descontos podem chegar a 25%. Para acessar esses recursos públicos, basta que essas empresas gerem apenas 400 empregos.

Além do número insuficiente de novos empregos – no Estado de São Paulo vivem mais de 44 milhões de brasileiros –, o governo estadual não exigiu dessas empresas nenhuma contrapartida ambiental. As empresas automotivas internacionais que produzem veículos no Brasil não adotam por aqui as mesmas tecnologias que adotam em seus países de origem. Aqui, fabricantes como Volkswagen e Mercedes-Benz não produzem os veículos híbridos e elétricos que já são vendidos em seus países e nem mesmo veículos adequados às normas Euro 6 que entraram em vigor na Europa em 2013. Ou seja, sequer trazem para o meu país a tecnologia que já adotam em suas matrizes há quase uma década.

O Brasil, no entanto, já possui um programa nacional para o controle da poluição do ar por veículos automotores, que determina a fabricação e comercialização de veículos cada vez mais poluentes com prazos bastante razoáveis. Mas a Associação Nacional dos Fabricantes de Veículos Automotores (ANFAVEA) insiste em adiar ano após ano a implementação das medidas necessárias para a adequação a essa lei. Um estudo do Instituto Saúde e Sustentabilidade demonstrou que, caso esse programa fosse implantado em 2020, como a lei previa inicialmente, apenas em seis regiões metropolitanas do Brasil (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Vitória, Curitiba e Porto Alegre) seriam salvas 10 mil vidas, com uma economia de R$ 4,6 bilhões em produtividade e internações hospitalares.

Achamos essa situação extremamente injusta, por isso decidimos questionar na Justiça o uso do nosso dinheiro por empresas multinacionais que aparentemente não estão preocupadas com as nossas vidas e de nossos filhos. Formamos um pequeno grupo de mães e pais para, num primeiro momento, ter acesso aos projetos que estão sendo avaliados para a concessão do financiamento com dinheiro público. Agora, estamos preparando uma nova ação para questionar a legalidade desses incentivos justamente em um momento em que devemos focar o máximo possível de investimentos na transição para uma economia zero carbono. Queremos que a lei seja pelo menos reformulada para incluir exigências ambientais justas e ambiciosas, que nos coloquem na rota da necessária evolução tecnológica e ética deste momento histórico que vivemos. Nosso apelo é que a Justiça brasileira reconheça que políticas públicas como essa, assim como a era dos combustíveis fósseis, devem ficar no passado.

मीना पाषाण, पुणे from IN

मेरे चूल्हा जलाने से जो धुआँ निकलता है, मुझे कभी नहीं पता था कि मैं इतना बुरा काम कर रही हूं। मेरे 4 साल के बच्चे और मेरे पेट के बच्चे दोनों पर बहुत बुरा असर हो रहा है अब मुझे समझ में आया। ये जानकर मुझे काफ़ी चिंता हो रही है, ग़ुस्सा भी आ रहा है और बहुत दुःख भी हो रहा है। अब मैं क्या करूं। और कोई रास्ता भी नहीं है मेरे पास। खाना कैसे पकाऊँ? पानी कैसे गरम करूँ? कोविड के दौरान में हम लोगों का काम छुट गया। घर में कुछ राशन भरने के लिए पैसे नहीं थे। जो भी थोड़ा चावल या आटा बचा था उससे बच्चों को हर दिन खिलाते थे और कई बार हमारे लिए कुछ नहीं बचता था तो हम सिर्फ़ पानी पी कर सो जाते थे। हमारे बच्चे सारा समय गंदगी और कचरे में खेले लेकिन उनको कोरोना नहीं हुआ। ऐसे ही बड़े हो रहे हैं। हम क्या करें। हम पढ़े लिखे नहीं हैं, काम नहीं है, मेरे पेट में 7 महीने का बच्चा है। अब मैं क्या काम करूं, कैसे पैसे कमाऊँ? प्रदूषित हवा में सांस लेकर मैं यहां पर बड़ी हुई हूं लेकिन मैं नहीं चाहती कि मेरे बच्चे ऐसे वातावरण में पले बढ़ें। मेरा भी सपना है की वो आपके बच्चों के जैसे अंग्रेज़ी स्कूल में जाएँ, अच्छे से पढ़ें, कॉलेज जाएँ, अच्छी नौकरी करें, लेकिन अभी मैं पैसे कहां से लाऊं? हम एलपीजी सिलेंडर भी इसलिए नहीं ले सकते क्योंकि हर महीने इतना महँगा रिफिल कैसे करेंगे? 900 रुपये का रिफिल तो हम सपने में भी नहीं सोच सकते। आप ही बताओ, जीने के लिए खाना तो होगा, इसलिये मैं चूल्हा जलाती हुँ। हाँ, मेरी आंखें जलती हैं, आंखों से पानी निकलता है और आंखें लाल हो जाती हैं, काफ़ी खांसी आती है और सांस लेने में तकलीफ भी होती है लेकिन कम से कम चूल्हा लकड़ी से जला लेते हैं, गैस सिलेंडर जितना महँगा तो नहीं है।

Leonor from Mexico

Imagine this, there’s a little girl from a small town in Mexico surrounded by cotton and vineyard fields, who enjoyed every minute of her life when being outside. Almost 50 years ago it was so normal for kids her age to be out in the streets or fields playing with other kids under the bright sun and breathing crisp clean air that filled their healthy lungs. More than 40 years later, this little girl is now a mom of 2 teenagers whom she adores and would give her life for, living in one of the most polluted industrial cities in Mexico named Monterrey.

She knows that air pollution affects more than 93% of the children around the world and that they need to breathe more times per minute than the adults because of their tiny lungs making it even more dangerous for them, it greatly affects their health and development. In addition, she, her family and the whole planet face what she believes is the greatest threat caused by men, climate change. Her mission is to do whatever it is in her hands to leave the best world possible for her children.

So as you can guess this is me, both my children are active too, they give presentations about climate change and how to lower one’s footprint, we as family have participated in all the local protests and marches for future, my son was invited to the first UN youth climate summit in NY and the day before we participated in the great march lead by Greta, so amazing all the youth vibes in the air! My son and I are both climate leaders with The Climate Reality Project. I’m also part of groups and movements such as Padres por el futuro Mty, Comité Ecologico Integral, ACA Mty, Observatorio Ciudadano de la Calidad del Aire del Area Metropolitana de Monterrey and others where I work with great people with whom I share the same love for our environment.

I feel blessed that my family and me, we all work in the same direction towards what we believe is one of the most important fights in our lives.

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.


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