Jim Kennedy On Why He Joined HAA, How We Can Fight For Healthy Air

We recently sat down with Healthy Air Alliance (HAA) Executive Director Jim Kennedy, who specializes in California environmental and health issues. His passion for environmental policy stems from his early life experiences exploring the outdoors and discovering nature’s vast and wondrous landscape.

Kennedy continues to be outspoken about the role we play as nature’s caretakers — he believes that while the environment may be expansive in size, we must be mindful there are limits to its resilience. He says his mission is to advocate for the mutually dependent relationship we have with nature and showcase how we are hurting ourselves and our natural habitat by polluting the air and water.

Get to know HAA’s executive director a little better:

Why did you join the Healthy Air Alliance? 

I joined the Healthy Air Alliance because I believe in its mission to make clean and affordable transportation options accessible to all. I live in Los Angeles where poor air quality and limited clean transportation options are not abstract concepts but daily realities. Consequently, we’ve set an ambitious goal: to remove more toxins in the air than we’ve ever been able to do before by harnessing all technologies available. We can’t wait for a future solution and must do more to protect our communities’ health today.

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

The cost — prices reflect the choices we all have to make — but the true costs of fossil fuels are spread out across society, and often hidden from consumers. That means we must mobilize support and harness the political will power needed to make necessary and urgent changes. The true benefits to our health and community’s quality of life exceed the transitional cost to cleaner energy.

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? 

Healthy air and climate change are two sides of the same issue, and both stem from fossil fuels. We breathe air pollution into our lungs that is harmful to our lives, and likewise, the earth’s atmosphere accumulates greenhouse gasses that lead to climate change. As temperatures change, the impact of air pollution worsens, so it’s important to keep the two issues linked.

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

More scientific medical research is uncovering the links between air pollution and harmful health effects like asthma, strokes, heart attacks, birth defects and more. We have a responsibility to continue elevating these personal stories. I, myself, am the father of a one-year-old daughter. I know I am not alone as a parent in recognizing the imperative that more needs to be done and sooner for our children’s generation. 

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

Californians can make an immediate impact by driving less, using more public transportation, choosing clean, renewable energy whenever possible, and of course, biking and walking more often. They can also call on policy leaders to make healthy air a top priority in their community.

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

Communities that have fewer resources tend to suffer most from worsening air quality. They must be first in line for funding and support. They have struggled with the effects of high-level toxins in their environment the longest and deserve immediate relief. Healthy air priority elevation comes from organizing at the neighborhood level to demand immediate change from their elected leaders.

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