The air belongs to everyone

Letter by Cathy Baiton, printed in the Lethbridge Herald ( Letters – September 8, 2012

Some interesting headlines this summer describe how, in a lawsuit filed by the Texas Environmental Law Center, a Texas judge has ruled that “the sky belongs to everyone.” This precedent could help environmental advocates and others concerned about clean air, even in cases where polluters appeal to notions like the “right” to pollute on private property.

Greater recognition of the simple truth that we all share the air might assist not only in battling industrial-scale pollution, but may also encourage more municipal leaders to shape better policies protecting people from sources of pollution like idling diesel engines, or smoky wood stoves and firepits.

As did several grass fires this past year, a frightening August 26 fire has reminded area residents about special risks of burning wood. Alongside the vital issue of fire prevention is the fact that, no matter how wood is burned, the smoke produced is as harmful as cigarette smoke, and poses a health hazard. As the Canadian Lung Association website explains, wood smoke cannot be kept out of even closed windows and doors.

Given that smoke particles spread beyond neighbourhood property lines, what is a suitable time to build an urban wood campfire? Certainly not during the day or evening, when many are active outside, and when children require and deserve fresh air for outdoor play. And definitely not at night, when people need clean air for healthy sleep.

As I understand, outdoor burning was banned in Lethbridge in 1991, but was reconsidered in 1993, when a resident wrote to City Council asking that it be permitted. If our city government were to reintroduce an outdoor wood burning ban such as the one formerly in place, I believe the majority of informed residents would support that.

Clean air is essential for healthy communities. The air does belong to all of us, and no one has the right to pollute it. Our own and other areas would benefit from legislation upholding the same progressive principles expressed in the Texas judge’s important decision made in July, that the atmosphere, like water, is part of a “public trust” and as such should be protected.

The air belongs to everyone.