Residents in nearby Morehead City suffered through more than two weeks of dangerously dirty air in 2018, according to a snew report
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who drive to work, you’ve undoubtedly sat behind the wheel frustrated as you inch along behind other commuters. While this traffic may make you late for your morning meeting, the consequences are much larger than just getting your day started off on the wrong foot. The fumes from all those cars are polluting our air, threatening our health and fueling global warming.
In January, the federal government gave us a disturbing reason to believe this won’t change. Federal officials announced they are blocking states like North Carolina from setting our own strong limits on tailpipe pollution. This is part of a clean car standards rollback, which has been our best national climate program for lowering car pollution. What’s worse is while our health is in danger, our own U.S. Senator Thom Tillis refuses to stand up for clean car standards in North Carolina and across the country.
This should be frustrating for all North Carolinians – and particularly those in Morehead City – because it comes at a time when there’s already trouble in the air. A new report from Environment North Carolina and NCPIRG recently found that despite decades of progress under the Clean Air Act, coastal towns like Morehead City, experienced 19 days of poor air quality due to air pollution in 2018. Cumulatively, that’s more than two weeks of breathing dirty air that can cause adverse health effects. Other cities in the state dealt with even more air pollution. Further inland, Winston-Salem experienced more than 100 days of elevated air pollution.
But whether it’s 19 days or more than 100 days, air pollution causes serious danger. The reason: Research increasingly suggests there is no safe level of air pollution for us to breathe. That means by simply breathing in and out, millions are at risk of heart disease, respiratory distress, worsened mental health, cancer and more just from the air that surrounds us. Tens of thousands of people have their lives cut short because of air pollution.
“Particulate matter and ozone have been shown to worsen numerous health issues including heart disease, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases. These are three of the top five leading causes of death in North Carolina,” explained Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air Manager.
The scariest part of all this is that if we don’t act now, this problem will only be worse. It’s nothing new to say that North Carolina is known for its sultry summers. But, with climate change, it’s only going to get hotter. Otherwise healthy individuals may already end up with life-threatening asthma attacks with our current heat and humidity. But increased temperatures results in increased ozone or smog. This should concern every North Carolinian because research increasingly suggests there is no safe level of air pollution for us to breathe.
We can’t choose whether or not to breathe, but we can choose to fight for clean air. This starts with our transportation system. In North Carolina, transportation accounts for 70 percent of our air pollution, and fossil fuels burned in our cars, trucks and buses are now the largest source of global warming pollution in the U.S.
We can reduce pollution from vehicles by paving the way for electric cars, buses and trucks. We must also promote walking and biking. Our transportation system is stuck at a red light, billowing pollution into our atmosphere. But our elected leaders can clean up our air and protect our health by giving electric vehicles the green light.
Fortunately, at the state level, Gov. Roy Cooper is looking out for the health of North Carolinians. Executive Order 80, as laid out by the governor, would reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and increase the number of zero-emission vehicles on the road to 80,000 by 2025. It also creates the interagency climate council to structure a plan to get us to these ambitious goals
The state legislature is also making bold steps in the right direction. There are bills in both the State House and Senate that would commit North Carolina to 100 pecent renewable energy by 2050. These are steps in the right direction to help clean up our air and protect North Carolinians from the harmful effects of air pollution.
Now we look to Sen. Tillis to push those in Washington to act similarly.
Jamie Lockwood is a climate and clean energy associate with Environment North Carolina.