"Despues de la tormenta, vienen los tormentos", that is what my mother says. "After the storm, come the torments". She got that saying from her mother, who endured many hurricanes before this one, Maria, hit Puerto Rico. I suppose that this saying goes back many generations in my family, and it is true now more than ever.
Maybe the time has come to add a new saying to my family's repertoire: "Cuando lo pierdes todo, empieza como si nunca lo hubieses tenido." "When you lose everything, restart as if you never had anything."
People ask me how is my family surviving. Their resilience comes mainly from three things:
First, my family is close. They are physically close, most live less than an hour from each other. And they are emotionally close. My aunts, uncles, cousins, all get together often. So, those who have lost or damaged houses are doubled up with sisters, uncles, or cousins. They are sharing food, shelter, water, and everything they have with each other, with their neighbors, and with their community.
Like many of you, I watch the news in shock. Whole islands in the Caribbean rendered uninhabitable by unprecedented hurricanes. Major cities under water. Forest fires threaten urban areas. Tropical storms hit temperate zones. Extreme monsoons and cyclones.
It feels like the dystopian future that seemed farfetched in so many bad movies, is now real. Having seen the water rushing through the subway tunnels after Hurricane Sandy hit New York made me rub my eyes in disbelief. It looked just like another movie in which they destroy Manhattan had actually come to life.
Now worries about hurricanes affecting family in Puerto Rico, colleagues in Texas, and friends in Florida and Cuba keep me up at night.
I suspect that I am not alone in this state of worry.
If you are not being directly affected by these climate-related disasters, you probably have close friends or relatives who are.
There is much fear about what is next. There is frustration about continued denial even though things are happening right in front of our eyes and you don't have to be a scientist to see. The reality is that climate effects that seemed so far in the future are here, now.
Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children in industrialized countries. In some communities, childhood asthma is so common that parents expect it as just another part of growing up, like tantrums and falling baby teeth. For instance, in many of our Latino communities, childhood asthma is referred to as “fatiga” or fatigue, and may not be recognized as a major illness. This may also prompt a sense that there is nothing that can be done because so many children have it, it is a fact of life. In our work, we have identified some schools in which one in every 5 children had symptoms of asthma.
So why, why, why do so many children have asthma? And why, at least until recently, it seemed to be on the up, and up, and up? No one really knows, but I will venture an educated guess.
During my years of medical research training, I was taught that air pollution did not cause asthma. It was believed that air pollution triggered asthma symptoms in those who already had it. That was the dogma for many years and that is what medical professionals have been taught.
Incredible but true. It has been 20 years since president Clinton signed the Environmental Justice Executive Order. Ah, I remember it well ...
President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, titled “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low Income Populations.” It mandated federal agencies to create programs that would ensure environmental equity among affected populations. The order followed on the heels of the 1994 Clean Air Act, a federal law that set limits on how many pollutants states could allow to be released into the air. "Environmental Justice" became a buzzword for fed agencies, a rallying cry for community groups, and a way to study health disparities for medical institutions.
By then, I had worked at EPA for a little while and was a lowly faculty instructor in academia. Then EJ became all the rage. There were rallies, there were demonstrations, there were marches, there were politicians talking about it, and, there were requests for proposals from the government to study the problem.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.