California Forum

Pollution doesn’t care about your politics. Here’s how to stop this killer threat

Smog gets bad quickly in the San Joaquin Valley. Images taken just days apart show the dramatic shift

Sight of the Sierra Nevada from Tulare County all but disappeared within days at the end of January as the San Joaquin Valley floor became choked with soot and dust, creating air pollution ranking the worst in the nation.
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Sight of the Sierra Nevada from Tulare County all but disappeared within days at the end of January as the San Joaquin Valley floor became choked with soot and dust, creating air pollution ranking the worst in the nation.

As a former California governor and a former president of the California State Senate, we know pollution is a threat we must address head-on.

One of us is a Democrat and one of us is a Republican. We come from different backgrounds and experiences. But asthma and other lung diseases have no party affiliation. Pollution never asks if you lean to the right or the left before it fills your lungs.

The cities of the Central Valley suffer some of the worst air pollution in the nation. So does the Los Angeles region, which is home to 1.4 million people who suffer from asthma – 270,000 of them children.

Californians already struggling to breathe can face up to 160 days a year with unhealthy ozone levels that make them more likely to end up in the emergency room or worse. They spend 40 percent of their lives at greater risk brought on by pollution.

Opinion

California has come a long way in reducing pollution, but we still have a long way to go to protect our people. Climate change is a serious issue that we must face, but overwhelming evidence shows that polluting emissions from fossil fuels are harming the health of Californians right now.

We can expect greater and worse impacts unless we dramatically increase our actions now. The good news: It’s still possible to improve air quality, avoid the worst impacts of climate change and protect the health of California’s families.

The American Lung Association recently released a new report that underscores our concerns nationwide, and especially for California. The 20th annual State of the Air report shows how our changing climate degrades air quality, leading to more episodes of harmful air pollution, asthma attacks, emergency room visits and premature deaths.

For millions of Californians, this is a true public health emergency.

From smoggy “code red” days with elevated levels of ozone pollution, to smoke from devastating and more frequent wildfires across the state, Californians are painfully familiar with the ways that climate change is worsening air quality.

The Lung Association report covers pollution data from 2015 to 2017 and gives us a clear picture of how climate change impacts our air.

In 2017, we experienced yet another hottest summer on record, followed by record heat into the fall. The heat, along with elevated ozone pollution levels, continued into late October. The heat dried out our landscapes and set the stage for the devastating Thomas Fire that tore through Ventura and Santa Barbara in December 2017.

Particle pollution levels have spiked across the state, due mostly to wildfire smoke, and our elevated ozone levels are due to increased heat, according to the State of the Air report.

Wildfire smoke is a significant source of particle pollution, which can cause asthma attacks, lung cancer and early death. Additionally, hot sunny days and extremely high temperatures create a horrible mix that amplifies harmful ozone – or “smog.” Ground-level ozone is a corrosive gas that burns our lungs, much like the damage caused by a sunburn on the skin. It can also trigger asthma attacks and cause early death.

Fire isn’t the only culprit. California struggles with many other particle pollution sources that also contribute to climate change. These include diesel engines at our ports and trucks running on our freeways, which often run through some of the lowest-income neighborhoods. These generate particle pollution that stunts children’s lung development and causes heart attacks, strokes, cancer and death.

Last year, the World Health Organization, the United States Global Change Research Program and other respected climate and health bodies issued stunning reports detailing the health impacts of climate change today. The conclusion: To protect public health, we must break our addiction to fossil fuels and prepare for the climate impacts already locked in from past emissions.

That’s why we are working together to bridge the partisan divide and get serious about our climate change emergency. We have teamed up with researchers at UCLA and USC to develop solutions to transportation pollution, which is the leading source of unhealthy air and climate pollution in our state.

California needs to aggressively cut transportation pollution, and local leaders can advance many of the needed changes. We need to electrify everything on wheels as quickly as possible and continue to cut carbon from our fuels.

As we build a clean energy future, health equity must be central. That means we need to address negative outcomes of land use and transportation decisions, including providing meaningful alternatives to vehicle traffic that drives our city to the top of the pollution lists.

Protecting our citizens should be a cause everyone can get behind, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.

We call on all elected officials and citizens to take action against pollution before it’s too late. And if you don’t know where to start, reach out to us. We’re here to help.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the former governor of California. Kevin de León is the former president of the California State Senate and a candidate for LA City Council.

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