TransformSustainability agenda › Clean air

Clean air, every breath

With every, life-giving breath we take, we depend on clean air. There is no substitute. But since air is all around us yet invisible, we often take it for granted. So we are committed to paying attention. We will keep the air pure as it flows over our cities and factories and farms. We will be aware that our air is part of a continuous, fragile blanket of atmosphere that enables life on Earth. And we will be conscious of the how we are dependent on people upwind of us and responsible to people downwind. The only way to be healthy is for everyone, everywhere, to have clean air. 

Days of industrial pollution<br />Cleveland skyline during air pollution alert on July 20, 1973.Power plant air pollution<br />Coal-burning Eastlake power plant at the mouth of the Chagrin River.Earth's atmosphere<br />A photo from the International Space Station shows the Sun rising over the Earth -- and illuminates the narrow, fragile band of atmosphere that makes life possible. (Photo from NASA)

Goals for clean air

Air quality in Northeast Ohio has improved substantially since the dirty days of unregulated smokestack industry. But it's still not safe to breathe the air on many days, especially for vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and people with asthma or other respiratory conditions. The pollution problems include ground-level ozone (smog), fine particles, toxic chemicals such as lead and mercury, and indoor air pollutants such as tobacco smoke. We also haven't come to grips with the most important air pollutant of all—the carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels that is causing climate change. 

To have healthy air in the long run, here are some goals for the region: 

  • Every breath a healthy breath all the time: We want a future where no child has to worry about playing outside. Among other things, this means eliminating the causes of "Ozone Action Days," and since vehicle exhaust is a major contributor to the ozone problem, this will require major improvements in our transportation system
  • Continued progress on indoor air quality: Ohio's indoor smoking ban was a major victory for public health. But more can be done to design buildings with better air quality and to reduce indoor exposures to harmful chemicals.
  • Special focus on power plants: Northeast Ohio has a large air-pollution burden from coal-fired power plants. Such plants are among the last big polluters to be regulated and are major sources of both conventional air pollution and toxics such as lead and mercury. The phasing out of coal-fired power plants is part of the agenda for a sustainable energy future.
  • Low-carbon future: We have a global responsibility to reduce the carbon dioxide pollution that causes climate change. Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless, nontoxic gas, and it's not seen as part of the air quality issue. But a destabilized climate will have huge impacts on human health and society. The transition to a low-carbon world will require changes to energy systems, buildings and transportation. 

How to help

In the coming months, GreenCityBlueLake staff will be working with community partners to define a policy agenda focusing on the most important ways to advance these clean air goals.

What do you think are the key things that need to change? Contribute your ideas here.

Updated 10/7/12


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