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Current ‘State of the Air’ Calls for Urgent Action from Faith Communities, and Government

By Nichole Tucker
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Air is believed to be the “fertilizing wind,” and the “ruah” of human life in monotheistic faiths. The Holy Quran 015:022 states that these winds are created by the higher power, not the power of man, therefore, it can be said that man has not the right to damage it. Ruah, or “breath” in Hebrew, is considered to be a precious gift, which all humans have a right to. But in the United States, 4 in 10 people still live in communities with poor air quality, severe enough to cause disease and death.

The American Lung Association has revealed striking new figures in the State of the Air 2017 report, which analyzed America’s most polluted cities, counties, and the individuals who face the biggest risk of toxic exposure.

Where in the U.S. is it safe to breathe? Here is what the American Lung Association has to say about polluted air, healthy air, and how to improve.

Air Pollution in America’s Cities

America’s most polluted city, Los Angeles, has held its title for years. However, the city is showing improvement thanks to several programs, including its Path to Positive: Los Angeles initiative, a project of our sister program Path to Positive Communities. Ten other cities make the list of danger zones with air pollution levels that could be deadly.

  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
  • Bakersfield, CA
  • San Jose-San Francisco, CA
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Chico, CA
  • Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Modesto-Merced, CA

Although the air in these eleven cities hosts contaminants that can severely damage the environment, it’s the data on at-risk people that proves to be the most compelling information revealed in State of the Air 2017.

When administering three types of health examinations and comparing this data to locations, it was discovered that cases of Lung Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Asthma, and Diabetes were more abundant in cities with unhealthy air.  People who live in poverty are more likely to live in polluted areas, currently accounting for 3.2 million of the individuals who failed all three of the administered health examinations.

Contesting to these inequitable statistics, Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association proclaims his opinion on how things should be:

Everyone has a fundamental right to breathe healthy air. Our nation’s leaders must do more to protect the health of all Americans.

People of faith have a long tradition of ministering to the less fortunate among us, and we are called to respond to what we see around us. Addressing air pollution and the fossil-fuel-burning practices that create it is part of our mission to care for our neighbors.

Clean Air in American Cities

Measuring both damage to the ozone and particle pollution, researchers found that air safety between 2013 and 2015 was good in six metropolitan areas.

  • Honolulu, HI
  • Elmira-Corning, NY
  • Wilmington, NC
  • Burlington-South Burlington, VT
  • Cape Coral-Fort Meyers-Naples, FL
  • Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL

Thirty-four additional cities and counties were deemed safe as far as air quality, but also showed variation in healthy air depending on the time of year.

Although many cities still show immense air pollution levels, things are better than they once were. According to the report, today, one-quarter fewer people reside in polluted cities and counties.

Modern improvement in air quality throughout the United States is thought to be a direct result of positive legislation, and the promotion of environmental awareness which lead to such legislation being passed. Wimmer of the American Lung Association recently explained this progress.

This year’s State of the Air report is a testament to the success of the Clean Air Act, which reduced air pollution in much of the nation.

However, policies like the Clean Air Act are in jeopardy under new leadership. Just this past March, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the EPA to begin rolling back the Clean Power Plan, implemented by the Obama administration. This plan would limit the emittance of greenhouse gas from power plants, improving air quality in major cities as well as helping to curb climate change. The current administration believes that these environmental improvement policies are a burden on the federal budget.

But, where there is a need for progress and change, there is always a group of concerned citizens who take a stand. This was the case for several faith organizations, including GreenFaith and Interfaith Power & Light, who helped organize the faith contingent at the People’s Climate March. There, faith leaders expressed their concerns about climate change and the moral and ethical obligation that humans have to protect the environment and the people of this Earth.

“As a climate activist, the reality of climate change not only has grave implications for the future of our planet, but also represents one of the great moral and ethical issues of our time. That's why Muslims are taking part in this People’s Climate March.” - Nana Firman, Muslim Outreach Coordinator for GreenFaith

Other People’s Climate March attendees, like the United Church of Christ, proclaim that acting on climate change is not an option but is, in fact, a duty. Like these organizations who marched for a clean energy economy, others must step up to help change unsafe air policies. Here’s how to start:

  • Get educated on climate change
  • Share the details about climate change with your congregation
  • Partner with an environmental justice organization
  • Spread the news of your concern to help engage others

Visit Blessed Tomorrow for more resources to help you engage your congregation and community on climate change. And if you’ve already been taking action, we’d love to hear your story and make it part of our upcoming Let’s Lead guide. Submit your success story here by June 15.

Nichole Tucker earned a Master's degree in Media & International Conflict from University College Dublin to help improve global issues, like climate change. Prior to joining Blessed Tomorrow, Nichole worked with the advocacy team at World Vision International.