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The air we breathe fills a fundamental requirement for our survival, and yet, we continually fail to preserve the quality of this most valuable resource. Pre-industrialization measurements of CO2 stood at 290 ppm, but approximately 150 years later, we hope legislation to cap it at 400 ppm. Nitrous oxide levels in the 1700s: 285 parts per billion (ppb); estimated 2030 level: 340 ppb. Harmful respiratory effects of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) have been shown numerous times since the 1970s attributing to ~50,000 deaths/yr in the US alone (>200,000 deaths/yr in Europe). Sulfur dioxide, mercury, and lead also represent just a handful of other pollutants emitted by coal plants.
Far from cavemen lighting fires in poorly ventilated caves, the human race has made a serious dent in the atmosphere with our dependency on motor vehicles and fuel combustion plant .Advocacy groups around the nation such as Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) spread the news on how air quality has direct effects on individual health and how the public can get involved to mandate regulations. PSR’s Rx for Survival: Social Justice and Medical Advocacy conference places a large focus on environmental issues and provides a strong foundation of knowledge and resources to get involved in the community.
Despite every piece of evidence on the consequences of air pollutants, fierce opposition from automobile and energy industries hinder the progress we wish to make to safeguard this shared resource. Only recently have we passed milestones such as the California Clean Cars Law to strengthen passenger vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards. Such victories come rarely and represent the conglomerate effort of the sprinkled thousands who fight tooth-and-nail to see these policies passed. We cannot choose to hold our breath much longer; everyone has the right to speak out against threats to his environment, health, and safety.
Air quality is one of many panel discussions to take place in PSR’s conference, so if you are interested in getting involved, please consider joining us in April 2011.