Why Reducing Air Pollution Matters

WHY-WHY-NOT-MELBOURNE2-4_0We hear plenty of political chatter including the words “climate change.” This discussion among politicians isn’t about science. It’s about the power of money in politics.

The tactics of the moneyed class have been to attack the messengers who would reduce air pollution, presenting so many falsehoods about climate change it’s hard to keep up. (Here’s a list of 175 global warming and climate change myths and brief responses to them). By the sheer volume and repetition of falsehoods, people are beginning to believe there is doubt about the science of climate change. There isn’t much, if any, cause for doubt.

A lot is at stake. In Iowa more than half of our electricity is generated by burning coal, which creates a sickly brew of substances breathed in by people who live near the plants, and those down wind. These substances have names: oxides of sulfur, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, dioxins, fine particulate matter, and others.

Air pollution is directly linked to the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. A reduction in coal burning would yield an improvement in health outcomes, including a reduction in mortality from heart disease, malignant neoplasms, respiratory disease and stroke.

The latest target is, and has been for a while, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan. First proposed on June 2, 2014, the plan represents a common sense approach to cut carbon emissions from power plants, setting rules for the first time. While the political class pursues an agenda that would weaken the plan, and at worst continue to allow coal burning operations to dump an unlimited amount of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, their actions are based on moneyed interests, not science or the benefits to people living in society.

While eyes focus on the Clean Power Plan, what is missed is it is only the first of multiple actions needed to reduce air pollution in a way to improve human health. In particular, EPA should develop strong standards that would reduce the leakage of methane from oil and gas operations.

Because the discussion is about the power of money in politics, and not about developing rational or logical approaches to solving problems that affect real people, the EPA’s efforts under the Clean Air Act are under constant attack from the supporters of the fossil fuel industry and their ilk. The plain truth is intransigent interests have a lot of money and are willing to spend it on protecting their assets.

“God’s still up there,” said U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) on Voice of Christian Youth America’s radio program Crosstalk with Vic Eliason, March 7, 2015. “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

Because corporate media is obsessed with conservative politics we hear more about the arrogance of environmentalists than about the influence of money in politics. This summer Pope Francis is expected to release his encyclical about the need for climate action to protect our home planet. We don’t need religious leaders to see the obfuscation of the truth that air pollution is having a deleterious effect on human health. We can and should do something about it, and it begins with developing the political will to take action.

Nov. 30 the United Nations will convene the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris in hope of reaching an international agreement on climate. Each country is to create its own goals to mitigate the causes of climate change. Whether the U.S. will be able to develop meaningful goals and ratify an agreement made in Paris is an open question. If the current U.S. Senate has their way, little or no action would be approved coming from COP 21, just as the preceding Kyoto Protocol was never ratified.

Robert F. Kennedy famously said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” The scientific knowledge and technology to address the climate crisis has been emerging. Because cost-effective solutions to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels are rapidly becoming reality, it is time to use our power as an electorate to demand our elected officials take action.

It can start with a phone call or email to our U.S. Senators urging climate action. Importantly, we can challenge the myths we hear in our daily lives, and work toward reducing the influence of money in politics. There is plenty we could do, and Earth is hanging in the balance, waiting for us to act.

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