For 13 days in 2018, I glimpsed my newborn daughter’s future — one bleak version of it, at least.
The Camp Fire had obliterated Paradise and blanketed Oakland in ash. The heavy smoke posed a serious risk to developing lungs. In the short term: chest pain, dizziness, and difficulty breathing. In the long term: asthma and chronic respiratory conditions.
I know this because I’m a doctor, and so for 13 days my daughter stayed inside.
In 2020 — deja vu. Hundreds of fires polluted the Bay Area’s air for 30 straight days. Again, my daughter could not safely be outside.
With California already suffering from the devastating effects of climate change, climate-fueled wildfires will only get worse unless we act now.
I see the damage climate change is doing to my patients suffering from asthma, lung disease and allergies. Whenever there’s a fire and the air quality worsens, I see an uptick in patients struggling to breathe or worse.
All I can do is prescribe medication that alleviates their symptoms — and I’m tired of it. As a doctor, my aim is to treat disease and heal the body by addressing root causes, not just symptoms.
But when it comes to respiratory disease, healthy habits and all the medication in the world can only scratch the surface, because the root causes are left unaddressed. It’s particle pollution in the air that gives kids asthma, triggers heart attacks and even kills.
California has the worst air quality in the nation. Wildfires are the most obvious culprit, but cars and trucks are by far the biggest source of the toxins that are quietly poisoning us. In the Bay Area, 2,500 people a year die from traffic-related air pollution, and more than 5,000 children develop asthma.
And while air pollution affects everyone, its impacts fall unfairly on people of color and low-income families thanks to decades of discrimination and urban planning that have placed major roadways closest to their neighborhoods.
Communities of color, on average, have double the asthma rate from air pollution and as much as 30 times the death rate of predominantly white neighborhoods.
All my years of medical training and advancements in health care are powerless against the consequences of burning fossil fuels. If the root cause of the disease is pollution, then the prescription is climate action, and in California, Proposition 30 is our best medicine.
Prop. 30 will slash the two main sources of air pollution and climate change in California: transportation emissions and wildfires.
With a 1.75% tax only on those making over $2 million a year, Prop. 30 generates roughly $4.5 billion annually to fight and prevent wildfires and jumpstart California’s transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs).
Moving to 100% ZEVs by 2035 could cut transportation emissions by as much as 70%. But our lungs will feel the benefits immediately. Every fossil-fuel burning vehicle taken off the road means cleaner air for all.
Prop. 30 gets us there by removing the two biggest barriers to widespread ZEV usage — affordability and convenience — with rebates to help buy ZEVs and expand our charging infrastructure.
From a health-equity perspective, Prop 30’s positive effects are magnified as it brings ZEVs to where they will have the biggest impact: working families and people of color in neighborhoods with the poorest air quality.
By passing Prop. 30 we can improve our health, save lives and give all our children cleaner, healthier air starting next year.
Their future is in your hands this November. Vote yes on Prop 30 — vote yes for health.
Dr. Ashley McClure is a mother, a primary care doctor in the East Bay and co-founder and co-director of Climate Health Now, a group of California health professionals advocating for climate action through a lens of health and equity.
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