This Saturday, April 29th, tens of thousands of people will gather for the Peoples Climate Movement march in Washington, D.C., to express unwavering support for continued action to combat climate change—and to call for putting the interests of the American people ahead of polluters. In different political circumstances, with a different person occupying the White House, you could see it as a call to arms with our planet's best interests in mind. But in our current political reality, that seems woefully inadequate.
The truth is, we are in the fight of our lives. We are facing the greatest environmental challenge humanity has ever faced. And the current administration’s response to date has been to deny the existence of climate change altogether, while launching an unprecedented assault on our country’s bedrock environmental protections. Our health and our children’s future hang in the balance.
So we will march to show our leaders in Washington that we will not back down. We will not accept politics and corporate interests coming before the well-being of the American people. We will continue to build a clean energy future. And we will defend everyone’s right to clean air, safe drinking water, and secure communities—no matter where they live, what they look like or how much money they make.
We are at a pivotal juncture. The decisions we make right now will affect the world for many generations to come.
Last year was the hottest since global record-keeping began in 1880. It was the third record-setting year in a row. Everyone can see the results: blistering heat, withering drought, widening deserts and raging wildfires, rising seas, storms and floods. By adding more hot, humid days to the calendar, climate change has also been shown to increase the length of mosquito seasons, giving these insects—including those that carry the Zika virus, which is associated with severe birth defects in babies—more of the conditions in which they thrive and multiply.
Yet President Trump has vowed to undo the progress we’ve already made in cutting the pollution that contributes to climate change. In just his first few months, he has take executive action to reverse measures that would cut pollution from cars and power plants. And he has threatened to withdraw from the international Paris Agreement on climate change, sending precisely the wrong signal to the rest of the world—that saving our planet from devastation is somehow optional.
The president has also made no secret of his wish to roll back or outright eliminate many of the federal protections that are crucial to ensuring public health. After appointing a vocal climate change denier and friend of the fossil fuel industry to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, the president proposed gutting that agency's budget by nearly one third: a one-two punch cynically designed to lessen the EPA's ability to do its job of enforcing our existing environmental laws.
Anti-environmental policies could have devastating effects on communities across the country.
To see how, just look to the people of Flint, Michigan. Residents there are still trying to put their lives back together after learning that their own leaders had knowingly allowed the local water supply to become contaminated with dangerous amounts of lead. And it's not just Flint. My organization's research mapped lead-related issues all across the country and concluded that in 2015, as many as 18 million Americans were being served by water systems with lead violations. Decades after we successfully removed lead from paint and gasoline, we've discovered—to our horror—that it's being piped directly into our homes, schools, and public spaces. Now is not the time, suffice it to say, to be weakening the laws that keep our drinking water safe. Now is the time to be strengthening them.
It’s also the time to safeguard the air that we breathe from known polluters. Though we've made great strides in curbing air pollution since the 1970s, air quality is still being compromised by industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, and rising temperatures. Taken together, these factors are responsible for chemicals, greenhouse gases, and particulate matter in our air that can lead to or exacerbate cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory illness. The American Lung Association estimates that 4 in 10 Americans currently live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone or other pollution. The problem is most evident in our cities, where asthma rates have been climbing steadily, especially among children and in communities of color. Roughly 25 million Americans suffer from asthma. Many of them—including a disproportionately high number of children—suffer from it so badly it results in 1.6 million trips to the emergency room each year.
And yet there are still those who would argue that the rules governing our air and water quality are too stringent, and should be loosened. It's no coincidence that many of these people are the same ones who would deny the impact of rising global temperatures on ozone levels, natural disasters, and even outbreaks of communicable disease.
The good news is the American people aren't standing for it—they're rising up against it.
In record numbers, people are lending their support to organizations like mine. They’re helping us provide safe drinking water to the people of Flint and spur the overdue rebuilding of that city's water system. They’re helping us use the courts to protect communities and preserve the planet—from challenging the Trump administration's refusal to ban a pesticide linked to learning disabilities in children, to fighting the green-lighting of the Keystone XL pipeline. They’re helping us advance the climate progress that is being made at the state and city levels. They're sending millions of emails and postcards to the White House, letting the administration know, clearly and plainly, that protecting the American people must be placed at the very top of the government's priorities list.
Trump may be ready to throw in the towel in the fight for our children’s future, but the rest of us are not. And we won’t let him do it. On Saturday, we're going to Washington to let our voices be heard. There's absolutely no way that we'll fail to get the president's attention. Whether you're there in person or not, I hope that you'll be there in spirit—and that you'll take some of the passion and energy on display that day with you, making it a part of your daily life. Because the best way to get the action that we need, and the protections that we deserve, is by fighting for them. Every one of us.