Proposition 30 offers a cure for the climate-induced health crisis

For 13 days in 2018, I glimpsed my newborn daughter’s future—at least a dark version of it.

The campfire had obliterated Paradise and covered Oakland in ash. Heavy smoke poses a serious risk to lung development. In the short term: chest pain, dizziness and difficulty breathing. In the long term: asthma and chronic respiratory diseases.

I know this because I am a doctor and so for 13 days my daughter stayed inside.

In 2020 — deja vu. Hundreds of fires polluted the air in the Bay Area for 30 straight days. Again, my daughter could not safely be outside.

With California already suffering the devastating effects of climate change, climate-fueled wildfires will only get worse unless we act now.

I see the damage climate change is doing to my patients suffering from asthma, lung disease and allergies. Every time there is a fire and the air quality deteriorates, I see an increase in patients struggling to breathe or worse.

All I can do is prescribe meds that relieve their symptoms – and I’m sick of that. As a physician, my goal is to treat disease and heal the body by addressing root causes, not just symptoms.

But when it comes to respiratory diseases, healthy habits and all the drugs in the world can only scratch the surface because the root causes remain unresolved. It’s the particulate air pollution that causes asthma in children, causes heart attacks and even kills.

California has the worst air quality in the nation. Forest fires are the most obvious culprit, but cars and trucks are the biggest source of toxins that are quietly poisoning us. In the Bay Area, 2,500 people die annually from traffic-related air pollution, and more than 5,000 children develop asthma.

And while air pollution affects everyone, its impacts fall unfairly on people of color and low-income families thanks to decades of discrimination and urban planning that put major roads closest to their neighborhoods.

On average, communities of color have double the rate of asthma from air pollution and up to 30 times the death rate of predominantly white neighborhoods.

All my years of medical training and health care advancements are powerless against the consequences of burning fossil fuels. If the root cause of the disease is pollution, then the prescription is climate action, and in California, Proposition 30 is our best medicine.

Prop. 30 will reduce the two main sources of air pollution and climate change in California: emissions from transportation and wildfires.

With a 1.75% tax on only those earning over $2 million a year, Prop. 30 generates approximately $4.5 billion annually to fight and prevent wildfires and to jumpstart California’s transition to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs).

Moving to 100% ZEV by 2035 could reduce transport emissions by up to 70%. But our lungs will feel the benefits right away. Every fossil fuel vehicle off the road means cleaner air for everyone.

Prop. 30 gets us there by removing the two biggest barriers to widespread ZEV adoption – affordability and convenience – with rebates to help buy ZEVs and expand our charging infrastructure.

From a health equity perspective, the positive effects of Prop 30 are magnified because they bring ZEVs to where they will have the greatest impact: working families and people of color in neighborhoods with the worst air quality.

By passing Proposition 30, we can improve our health, save lives, and give all our children cleaner, healthier air starting next year.

Their future is in your hands this November. Vote yes on Proposition 30 – vote yes on health.

Dr. Ashley McClure is a mother, primary care physician in the East Bay, and co-founder and co-director of Climate Health Now, a group of California health professionals advocating for climate action through the lens of health and equity.

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