Ibrahim Abdul-Matin On Why He Joined HAA, How We Can Fight For Healthy Air

We recently sat down with HAA New York Advisory Board member Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, an environmental policy consultant and urban strategist. Currently focused in New York, Ibrahim is committed to environmental justice at both the public and private level. Along with his consulting work, he is an author and board member for various environmental and social justice organizations.

Get to know one of HAA New York’s Advisory Board members a little better:

Why did you join the Healthy Air Alliance?

I spend a lot of my time talking about how we solve persistent human problems related to water, waste, food and energy. These are issues that we have had to solve since the dawn of our existence. Poor and toxic air quality, on the other hand, wasn’t one of those issues the same way – we have created this mess that we are in where we allow some people to breathe in toxicity and do nothing to stop it. Air quality and health are inextricably linked. You are what you breathe in. I joined the Healthy Air Alliance because I aim to be a healthy, thriving human, and I want to work with others to do the same and not have our bad decisions that have led to poor air quality get in the way towards reaching their goals.

What do you believe is the greatest obstacle we face in fighting for healthy air?

The first step is awareness. Because we often have no idea what is in the air we breathe or in the fuels and such that power the machines we use, we have an “out of sight, out of mind” approach. This is very dangerous as people are disconnected from what may be a silent threat to their health – and these changes will require we make personal and eventually political and policy changes.

Should we think about fighting for healthy air as part of the broader climate change debate or as a separate issue that deserves its own attention?

Both. The fight for healthy air requires a deep, concentrated and focused attention as part of a larger climate agenda and movement towards a regenerative future where all have full access to healthy food, renewable energy, clean air and water, good jobs, and healthy living environments. Much of what we know are poisonous to the planet’s climate are also poisonous our bodies. Regarding the air we breathe, we need to know what we are breathing, how it got there, why it is there, and if it is harmful, we need to stop using it. Turns out if we make this transition then then we are doing what’s best for the planet and our own health.

How can we increase awareness of the effects unhealthy air has on communities and reach people who haven’t previously engaged on this issue? 

We have a lot of work to do. The pandemic offers a unique opportunity to really deepen our connections. This work challenges the dominant worldview of colonialism, consumerism, and the concentration of power governed through violent force and advances a worldview of sacredness and care, as well as ecological and social well-being governed through deep democracy. To get anything important done you have to first build relationships with people who are creating our future right now.

What are some practical things New Yorkers can do today to help reduce carbon emissions?

Get out of the house! In New York, most people live within ten minutes of a park. People should get out of the house, off of their devices, and to the best of their own ability get into a regular practice of going to enjoy whatever fresh air you can. The more that you appreciate healthy air, the more you will be willing to fight for it. Visit natural areas and support others having access to sunshine, trees, vistas, breezes and clean air. A few other practical things you can do is: turn off your AC unit when you leave the house, carpool when possible, turn off lights for an hour, go tech-free for an hour, eat less meat, wash clothes at a cooler temperature setting and break your single-use plastic food bag habit.

How can we continue to elevate the struggle and eventually alleviate the burden polluted air has on disadvantaged communities?

We should examine our own lives and choices, how we travel, our electricity use – and its sources – all the ways that our way of life is supported by pollution-based activity.  When we find best practices, we should make sure that our innovations are shared with the people most hurt by old-polluting ways. Like-minded small businesses and entrepreneurs should work together to aggregate purchasing power towards influencing supply chains to ones that alleviate the burdens that polluted air has on the ones most exposed. Finally, we should identify and advocate the changing of codes and standards that inhibit much-needed changes to ensure transparency and truth regarding what is in our air – to ensure we all have healthy air to breathe.

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