Why We Must Act: For our Families’ Health and our Kids’ Future

Sanaa Brown is ten years old. Like many other girls her age, she loves playing outside. Soccer, dance, gymnastics, tennis, swimming—as her mom likes to say, there’s isn’t a sport Sanaa doesn’t like.

But these days, she finds herself stuck inside more and more often. Sanaa has asthma and environmental allergies—conditions that are only getting worse, thanks to climate change.  Increasingly extreme summer heat [and humidity] near her family’s home in North Carolina mean Sanaa has more and more trouble breathing. After less than an hour outside, she often breaks out in painful hives.

Despite all this, Sanaa refuses to give up. She’s still running all around her house, still giving it her all on the soccer field. Yet, the difficulty breathing, the painful hives—they’re not going anywhere. As her mom admits, pursuing her passion means that Sanaa now has to “deal with the consequences.”

She shouldn’t have to.

I got into public service more than three decades ago as a local public health official in Canton, Massachusetts, because I wanted to make life a little easier for kids like Sanaa. I wanted to make sure they could play outside whenever they wanted to, without having to worry about being able to breathe.

Thirty-five years later, kids like Sanaa are still the reason I come to work every day—because I know that unless we continue the fight to protect our environment, what’s happened to them could just as easily happen to my family or yours. Nothing drives home this threat more sharply than the challenge of climate change.

Climate change, driven by carbon pollution from fossil fuels, leads to more extreme weather—more extreme heat, cold, drought, storms, fires, and floods. Climate change is a global challenge, but it’s also personal. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you care about, climate change is affecting you and your family today.

Our moral responsibility to act is crystal clear—because our families are bearing the brunt of these effects.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can lead to lung and heart disease. Over the last three decades, the number of Americans living with asthma has doubled. Warmer temperatures from climate change exacerbate air pollution, putting those patients at greater risk of landing in the hospital.

The facts of climate change aren’t up for debate. Scientists are as sure that humans are causing climate change as they are that cigarettes cause lung cancer. We have a responsibility to act because we have a responsibility to our kids, our grandkids, to Sanaa Brown, and to young people across the country and around the world.

As a mom, I feel the weight of this responsibility every time I look at my three children. At EPA, I feel it every time I walk the halls and remember our mission: to protect public health and the environment. That’s why we’re not shying away from this challenge. We’re not waiting. We’re taking action now.

The transition to a clean energy future is happening even faster than we expected—and that’s a good thing. It means carbon and air pollution are already decreasing, improving public health each and every year. The Clean Power Plan accelerates this momentum. It will slash carbon pollution from the power sector by nearly a third compared to where we were a decade ago. And when we cut carbon pollution, we also cut the smog and soot that come with it. That’s going to make a real difference in the lives of kids and families everywhere.

By 2030, we’ll see major reductions of pollutants that can create dangerous soot and smog, translating to significant health benefits for the American people. We’ll avoid up to 90,000 asthma attacks that would have ruined a child’s day. Americans will spend up to 300,000 more days in the office or the classroom, instead of sick at home. And up to 3,600 families will be spared the grief of losing a loved one too soon.

We’re acting now because lives are at stake.

Two years ago, President Obama told the students of Georgetown University that he “refuse[d] to condemn their generation… to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Two months ago, Pope Francis reminded us that “young people demand change,” and called upon “every person living on this planet” to take a stand for our children, and theirs to come.

A child born today will turn fifteen in the year 2030 – the year when the full benefits of the Clean Power Plan will be realized. The actions we take now will clear the way for that child – and kids everywhere – to learn, play, and grow up in a world that’s not only clean and safe, but full of opportunity.


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