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The photo that I’m holding is of my son and me in Yosemite National Park, our local mountains. This is my favorite reason for fighting for clean air.

Clean Air Ambassador | Sacramento, California

Robin Kristufek

It's a scary moment to walk into a client's home or onto the freeway underpass where they live and see their two-month old child struggling to breathe. This is a sight I have had to face many times as a public health nurse serving homeless and low income families.

A disproportionate number of children living in poverty experience asthma, bronchitis, even death from lung diseases. More than middle class people, they live and travel right next to busy roads or freeways, without trees that filter out particulates; therefore they proportionately breathe more particulate matter and toxic gasses. People living in poverty cannot afford cars. In cities like Sacramento, they must travel via an abysmal transit system.

Having a woefully inadequate transit system and a region built for automobiles means that my clients often walk long distances on busy streets to get to bus stops, and then must wait awhile at other stops for their transfer buses—breathing fumes and particulates spewing from trucks and cars whizzing by as they wait. In Sacramento, it takes 3, even 4 hours to travel by bus from one end of the region to the other because of sadly infrequent bus lines.

What is the solution? Should we make cars affordable to even the very poor and have no housing on busy streets or by freeways? If we convert to all electric cars, using solar and wind electricity, wouldn't that be “clean”? Consider these facts: An average electric car still contains two tons of steel, rubber, plastic, glass, and toxic fluids. That's a lot of raw materials, the manufacture of which is very polluting. And manufacturing the number of solar collectors and wind generators needed to power electric cars for everyone would overwhelmingly pollute the places where the necessary materials are mined.

The new inconvenient truth is that solar and wind collectors contain many toxic chemicals. The water downstream from the mines where the raw materials for the collectors are extracted is already becoming contaminated and we have less than 1% of our power from solar/wind right now. How is that fair to the people who live in those parts of the world? We need to respect all forms of energy and be aware of the downsides of each.

Here's a better solution: Instead of bailing out the auto industry, convert auto factories into light rail and train factories. The workers' jobs are saved, and we all benefit by making public transportation a viable reality, taking millions of cars and trucks off the road. Public transportation is phenomenally more efficient. It takes much less raw materials and power to transport one person or pound of goods for one mile by solar train than it does by solar car or truck.

If we are sincere about clean air, we must focus on changing our dominant modes of transportation.

I ride my bike to work and people say to me, "I would love to ride my bike to work but it's not safe—cars don't see bicyclists." It's true. So let's advocate for reducing by 90% the number of cars and trucks on our roads by the year 2050, and instituting instead fantastic public transportation running every 5 blocks, every 5 minutes, truly safe bike lanes, and truly walkable cities. My clients need us to do this, and our great grandchildren need us to do this, if we are to give to them a cleaner, saner life.

Having a woefully inadequate transit system and a region built for automobiles means that my clients often walk long distances on busy streets to get to bus stops, and then must wait awhile at other stops for their transfer buses—breathing fumes and particulates spewing from trucks and cars whizzing by as they wait.

50 States United For Healthy Air

Clean air should be a fundamental right. Air pollution causes asthma attacks, lung disease, and even death. But our bodies don't have to be the dumping ground for dirty industries.

The technology to dramatically reduce harmful air pollution is available today, and major polluters should be required to use it.

Clean Air Ambassadors from every state are sending a powerful message: Everyone has a right to breathe clean, healthy air.

It’s time Congress and the EPA used their ears to help our lungs.