I was in bad shape.
A few weeks back, I started having trouble breathing. Just allergies, I told myself. But as the days went on I started coughing, and I couldn’t stop. I was up all night coughing, and the next day was even worse. And the next day.
“Mommy just has a really bad cold.” My son Finn is 4 years old. Suzy is 2. The only ailment they understand is the common cold.
“I think I’m getting better,” I assured them. But I wasn’t getting better. On the fourth day of non-stop coughing I got the diagnosis.
Asthma can develop at any stage in a person’s life, and you’re never prepared. I was shocked at first, and then I was furious. I felt angry at Chevron and Shell Oil, at climate change deniers, at their lobbyists, at any and every person I could think of to blame for polluting the air I breathe. But then I picked up my inhaler, and I took a breath.
My asthma wasn’t caused by just one thing, and it’s impossible to distill blame from an endless list of biological and environmental factors. I accept that. I don’t blame my asthma on big polluters or the politicians who enable them, but I don’t forgive them – because the fact is that air pollution does cause asthma (not to mention climate change), and they’ve known it for decades.
I'm not going to take this diagnosis lying down (even though that's all I want to do when I can't breathe). I’m going to keep on fighting for clean air and the future of all of our families with the best team in California – the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV).
Right now, public health and environmental advocates are standing on the brink of victory in passing an historic package of clean air and climate laws, but Big Oil and their army of lobbyists are trying to derail this progress. We need every Californian to take action today and tell their lawmakers to vote YES on SB 32 and SB 350.
Almost every Californian knows someone with asthma or another serious health condition related to poor air quality. Five million Californians – including one million children—suffer from asthma. Eight in ten Californians live in areas with unhealthy air. California is home to the five most polluted cities in the nation for ozone and particulate matter, which come primarily from vehicle tailpipe emissions. Over 7,000 Californians die prematurely each year from air pollution.
I was shocked to be diagnosed with asthma in my 30's, but it's not unusual. I just read an opinion piece by Dr. Milton Bosch who described how adults with no history of asthma or allergies fill his Napa clinic during Spare the Air days, many of them "having their first experience with wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath":
"Many found it hard to believe that polluted air could cause such a thing and felt stigmatized by being labeled as an 'asthmatic'... Make no mistake: they were experiencing hyper-reactive airway disease due to inhaled pollutants like ozone and small airborne particulates less than 5 microns in size. Our air pollution was getting so bad, it was making 'normal' people sick with symptoms identical to asthma."
We also know that the climate and clean air laws we pass make a difference. A two-decade study published this past spring showed for the first time that cleaner air is linked to stronger lungs among children in Southern California. The research found the region’s impressive decline in air pollution since the mid-1990s is strongly associated with “statistically and clinically significant improvements” in children’s lung function and growth. Californians can be proud that our environmental laws are improving and saving lives from pollution.
Try telling any of that to the oil industry, which has been pouring millions of dollars into a deceptive campaign to stop progress on clean air and climate proposals.
I can’t blame anybody for my asthma, and I won’t ever know what “caused” it. There just isn’t that one thing you can say for certain is to blame. After being diagnosed and beginning treatment, my condition began to improve immediately.
But being a mom changes the way I think and feel about everything. What’s going to happen to Finn and Suzy if we don’t get air pollution under control? Will they develop asthma while they’re still little, or maybe when they’re all grown up like me? Will their lives be turned upside down by the effects of climate change? Will they be able to stay in California to raise their own?
Polluters stand in the way of my ability to provide a safe and healthy environment for my kids to grow up in. Big Oil may not have “caused” my asthma, but I’m certain that they don’t care about my children’s future. They’ll wreck the entire planet just to make a profit ... unless we stop them. And we can stop them, but we’ve got to do it together and we’ve got to do it now.