By Eric Manzo
I grew up in the Central Valley of California. There the air we breathe leaves something to be desired. The agricultural production increased traffic, and factories, combined with the geomorphic characteristics of the Valley make it a bowl of polluted air. This greatly harms the health of citizens especially children, leading to the high rates of asthma in valley children. Since moving to the Bay Area, I’ve realized that the air quality is quite different from that of Fresno. It’s what lets me hike the Berkeley Hills, run and bike around the bay, or spend a whole day on Memorial Glade. Meanwhile growing up, sometimes recess and play dates were restricted to being indoors because of poor air quality. Clean air is a very basic necessity, that allows for all humans to exist and enjoy life.
However, despite people always talking about wanting to protect the air from pollution, we don’t always think of it as an immediate problem. Sure some might experience one or two days of bad air quality (or the week we couldn’t go out because of ash here in Berkeley) but many communities have already found themselves with air quality that fails to meet federal air quality standards for many years. These are often areas where a large number of minorities live, such as the agriculturally active central valley. The health of many is at risk despite it not being widespread. These people often don’t have a voice on the decision-making table and therefore find it difficult to fight and advocate for their right to clean air.
Besides wanting clean air for the spiritual value or intrinsic value of going out and enjoying nature we need to think about the fact that for many people, they just want to be able to be outside their home without having to worry about being exposed to cancerous airs. Sure we should worry about that as well, but we shouldn’t be blinded by this one sided view of envrionmentalism. Don’t just fight for clean air as a citizen of the Berkeley who wants to be able enjoy a run along the Berkeley hills and enjoy fresh air. Fight for clean air for those communities who have experienced environmental racism with the placement of a processing plant in their backyard. At this point in time, those are the people that need their voices heard the most, so they can enjoy the basic human right of clean air.