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Coal Smoke and Planetary Fever: As the climate changes, a deadly disease is on the rise.

12:27 pm in Uncategorized by Daphne Wysham

I recently returned to my childhood home in India with my siblings for a final walk down memory lane with my elderly mother. As expected, it was a powerfully emotional experience. But in ways unexpected, it brought home to me how our planetary fever — climate change — is inflicting a deadly fever on those least to blame for it.

The author with her sister and Parveen.

The author with her sister and Parveen.

One of our destinations on this trip was the city of Ludhiana, which houses one of the best medical schools in India, Christian Medical College. My father taught and practiced medicine there for many years. Ludhiana is in the Punjab on the border with Pakistan, and is one of India’s industrial and agricultural powerhouses.

Some of my earliest childhood memories include my father pushing me on our backyard swing, my nightgown billowing in the warm evening air. I remember him pushing me so high so I could see the flickering oil lamps in neighboring houses. I remember the pungent smell of the dung fires cooking the evening meals in hundreds of homes. The meow of wild peacocks in the fields behind our house, the flocks of chattering parakeets, the evening arguments of crows, the morning dove’s coos on hot summer days. I remember bougainvillea blossoms cascading around our porch in the sunlight, and carrots so fresh from the garden they were like candy. Most fondly, I remember the love of my Indian “ayah,” or nanny. Parveen, only 14 years my senior, helped my parents raise me.

As we stepped off the train from nearby Delhi, we hoped to relive many of these memories. But instead the sky was a gray pall, and the black dust of diesel and coal-fired power emissions coated our nostrils. No amount of filtering the air through our scarves could prevent us from coughing.

Ludhiana is now the fourth-most polluted city in the world, according to the World Health Organization. The water, too, has become contaminated by pesticides, heavy dyes, and other chemicals dumped by industry and leaching into the water table.

The World Bank ranked Ludhiana No. 1 in India in 2009 for creating a friendly business environment. We saw evidence of this at our hotel: foreign businessmen meeting in the lobby, negotiating business deals on couches and in corners, hovering over laptops. Well-heeled Indian women idled away the hours eating expensive lunches in the hotel’s restaurant, trading gossip and playing bingo.

This once relatively small industrial town has become a magnet for global markets — car parts for Mercedes Benz, BMW, and other automakers are produced here, as well as a good share of Asia’s bicycles and many other heavy industrial goods. Much, if not all, of that manufacturing is powered by coal. Read the rest of this entry →

A Lesson Our Kids Understand, but Congress Doesn’t

10:56 am in Uncategorized by Daphne Wysham

A few days ago, I took my son and one of his friends to a birthday party. As we made our way there, I listened in on their conversation – something I like to do if they are truly unaware that I am doing it. They were comparing soccer skills, and why my son’s friend wasn’t quite as fast as he was on the field.

His friend lowered his voice and in a near whisper said, ”I don’t like to admit it, but I have asthma. And that’s one reason I can’t run fast.” Later, as they were talking about things they were really afraid of, his friend added, “Really bad allergies; that’s what scares me the most.”

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our country that our children are terrified by what our elected officials are failing to do: uphold laws that protect their health. Lisa P. Jackson’ writes in the Los Angeles Times about the all-out Republicans assault on environmental laws and regulations in the House of Representatives:

Since the beginning of this year, Republicans in the House have averaged roughly a vote every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation’s environmental laws. They have picked up the pace recently — just last week they voted to stop the EPA’s efforts to limit mercury and other hazardous pollutants from cement plants, boilers and incinerators — and it appears their campaign will continue for the foreseeable future.

Using the economy as cover, and repeating unfounded claims that “regulations kill jobs,” they have pushed through an unprecedented rollback of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and our nation’s waste-disposal laws, all of which have successfully protected our families for decades. We all remember “too big to fail”; this pseudo jobs plan to protect polluters might well be called “too dirty to fail.”

The House has voted on provisions that, if they became law, would give big polluters a pass in complying with the standards that more than half of the power plants across the country already meet. The measures would indefinitely delay sensible upgrades to reduce air pollution from industrial boilers located in highly populated areas. And they would remove vital federal water protections, exposing treasured resources such as the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Erie, the Chesapeake Bay and the Los Angeles River to pollution.

Lisa Jackson’s hard-hitting op-ed is an important antidote, but we all need to do our part.