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I spent 12 years in the Marines. The Inaction on Climate Change Is a Horror
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I spent 12 years in the Marines. The Inaction on Climate Change Is a Horror

A protestor holds a sign


I was sworn to uphold the land and people of the United States when I joined the Marines. After 12 years in the Marine Corps, including deployments to Iraq, Kuwait, and Bahrain, I returned to the United States and was shocked to discover how policymakers failed climate change protection.

Climate change is causing extreme heat and wildfires, drought, sea level rise, flooding, and other hazards that could put military personnel and facilities at risk. Florida is the climate coal mine’s canary. My home in Orlando is surrounded by swamps that are flooding. The streets of Miami are also flooding. The sea level is rising and our beaches are shrinking. You can find the Florida coast here More than 20 military basesFlooding is threatening many areas. It is clear that climate change affects our military readiness as well as national security.

Because my family is deeply rooted in the military, I take this seriously. My father was a Marine. My grandfather was a Marine, and my nephew is an active member of the Air Force. Our family has made a great sacrifice for our country, as all military families. All we ask in return—for our family and all families—is that we have the foundation for a healthy future: a stable environment, safe water to drink and clean air to breathe.

Yet, my mother cannot go outside due to a respiratory condition. The heat and pollution make her breathe worse. When I visit the VA hospital, I often see the same respiratory issues in fellow veterans. My 20-year old daughter worries about finding clean water and air when she wants to start a family. She wonders if she should bring children into the world.

If we are willing to work together, we have all we need to create a country that is more resilient to climate change. The fastest and most effective way to slow climate change is to reduce methane pollution and protect the health of children, families, and their families. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gasoline and is a powerful greenhouse gas that is contributing to the climate crisis. Methane is leaking from oil and gas sectors at a rate of More than 16 million metric tonnes are produced annually—the equivalent of the climate pollution from all of the nation’s passenger vehicles in a year.

A protestor holds a sign
During the Climate Justice March in New York, Nov. 13, 2021, a protestor holds a sign that reads “Protect Future Generations.”
KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking into a ruleThis will reduce methane, and other harmful air pollutants, from both newly built and existing oil-and-gas operations. The first methane standards will apply to the nation’s nearly 1,000,000 older oil and gas productions. Although this is a significant step in the right direction, there are still gaps in the rule that would allow large sources of methane to continue unchecked.

First, the EPA must strengthen its proposal by requiring frequent inspections at smaller wells. These wells are exempted from the proposed rule. Many thousands of smaller wells in the country contribute a large amount to methane pollution, even though they only produce a small amount. This exemption is a problem as smaller wells can be more vulnerable to equipment failures, and are major polluters.

Second, the EPA should end the practice of “flaring.” Some oil and natural gas companies have not invested enough in equipment to be able to capture and sell all of the gas they drill. Instead, they simply burn it off as waste. Flaring or burning produces air pollutants that can harm the health of communities nearby and contribute to climate change.

This issue is dear to my heart as a Latina. There are close to2 MillionLatinos live within half a mile of oil and natural gas facilities. We are Three timesBecause of where we live or work, air pollution is more likely that our health will be adversely affected. Our children are more likely than us to get air pollution from their homes. dieMiss 112,000 and asthma Days of schoolEvery year, air pollution causes more deaths than any other cause. All are affected by climate change and air pollution, but Black and Brown communities, people with low incomes, and those on the frontlines are the hardest.

In the Marines I lived by the motto “leave none behind”. Now that I am living in civilian life, it is my duty to urge our policymakers not too leave anyone behind. No matter where you live or how much money you make, everyone has the right to clean air, safe water, and a safe environment. The EPA must create the strongest and most comprehensive rules in order to protect our families from any source of oil and gas methane poisoning, including small wells or routine flaring. We demand justice with every breath.

Yaritza is a second generation Puerto Rican, mother, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, organizer with Moms Clean Air Force. She resides in Orlando, Fla.

These views are solely those of the writer.


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