The Denver Metro Area had more than 60 ozone alert days this summer. The EPA recommends that active children (which means almost all children) be kept indoors on ozone alert days because the air is simply not safe for them to breathe leaving parents with tough decisions to keep their children safe and healthy. Unfortunately, we had so many ozone alert days that if we parents followed the recommendations from health experts then we kept our children inside for more than half of the summer.
Ground-level ozone pollution forms through a chemical reaction of pollution from cars and power plants in the presence of heat and sunlight. Ozone alerts are issued when it reaches levels that are dangerous to our health. Ozone pollution can inflame and damage our airways and aggravate lung disease. It can also permanently damage the still-developing lungs in young children.
I have many fond memories of summer. Like most folks, it includes running around the neighborhood with friends until dusk, camping, and hiking. That is what summer is supposed to be for kids. A time of freedom to explore and play. Not sitting inside, no doubt on a device, because the air outside was not safe to breathe.
Furthermore, once summer was over and kids were back in school, many of our schools closed early or didn’t have school at all on days that reached the mid to upper 90’s.
At least 17 schools just in the Denver Public School district did so and schools around the country are facing the same problem. Many of our aging schools don’t have cooling systems and funds are limited for retrofits. Even when they are in school, it is hard for our kids to learn when it’s hot. The heat makes it difficult to concentrate, it makes everyone sleepy, kids and teachers alike.
So, our kids missed half their summer and now, they are missing school.
The backdrop to all of this is of course the climate crisis. It’s already here and it’s happening even faster than scientists originally thought it would. That means that air pollution and heat and crazy weather and wildfire and drought and all the consequences of climate change will only get worse, leaving our kids with a mess that they did not create but will be stuck living with the resulting disasters. Unless we do something about it.
Fortunately, something can be done. We have time to avoid the worst of the climate crisis if we act quickly and take bold action. There are opportunities available right now if our politicians have the courage to act.
The Colorado legislature passed the Climate Action Plan a couple of years ago and gave the Air Quality Control Commission (part of Gov. Polis’ administration) the authority to implement it. Now we need them to fulfill their duty and cut our greenhouse gas emissions as required by Colorado law.
They must cut pollution from the transportation, industry, buildings and oil and gas sectors. A new report out by Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy shows that even small amounts of health-damaging air pollutants found in oil and gas emissions can cause premature birth, asthma (which already 1 in 12 kids in Colorado suffer from), cancer, and other adverse health impacts. Cutting air pollution is critical to our kids’ health today and protecting their future. The AQCC is considering new safeguards this fall and winter and they must put enforceable, equitable and verifiable rules in place.
Secondly, we need Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act with the programs that will address climate.
It includes not just clean energy programs but also things like funds to retrofit schools so they can save energy and at the same time provide a more conducive atmosphere for our kids’ learning. Poll after poll show these programs are supported by a majority of Americans. They’ll also create new jobs.
We cannot afford to nibble around the edges anymore. We need a solution that is on the scale of the problem and the Build Back Better Act is a significant piece of that solution.
Only having half a summer and losing school days cannot be the new normal for our kids. It is deeply unsettling to think about what our grandchildren’s summer and school days will look like if we continue down this road.
There are a lot of opportunities in front of our decision makers right now that can make a significant difference for our kids. I sincerely hope they will take them.
Jen Clanahan is Colorado director of Mountain Mamas.