by Avram Friedman
Guest Blogger

On August 18, the fourth annual Relay for Clean Air will begin at 6:15 am as the first bicyclist leaves Newfound Gap at the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park carrying the pennant-sized "Clean Air" banner. Through a continual chain of bicycle riders, runners and walkers, the banner will arrive in Asheville, North Carolina via the Blue Ridge Parkway, 100 miles and fourteen hours later. This is a march for the right to breathe clean air.

We are marching for clean air in the Great Smoky Mountains and on the Blue Ridge Parkway because these are the two most visited and most polluted national parks in America. Acid rain and high ozone levels are leaving a legacy of millions of dead and dying trees. Unique species of plants and animals in this region are threatened by air pollution and climate change. Average visibility is a small fraction of what it was half a century ago.

We are marching for clean air because one of every three children in this geographical region has suffered an asthma attack, because asthma is the number one cause of absenteeism in the public schools and because a direct link has been established between asthma in children and high ozone and particulate pollution levels in our air.

We are marching because hundreds of the most respected climatologists in the world on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have come to a consensus that human activities, particularly in power production and transportation, are causing rapid climate change that will likely have catastrophic consequences in approaching decades. These scientists are telling us there is perhaps a twenty-year window of opportunity for humanity to take strong and deliberate actions to reduce our output of greenhouse gases by as much as 80% from today's levels, if we are going to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

We are marching because we have the means to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas and toxic emissions through energy-use reductions, through conversion from reliance on fossil fuels to safe and clean renewable energy technologies, through peak-power shifting, through comprehensive public transportation options and near zero-emission automobile technologies, but public policy has not reflected the urgency of the climate change crisis by offering appropriately scaled measures that will have significant impact using these and other methods.

We are marching because public energy and transportation policies on the state and federal levels have mostly ignored the air pollution and climate change crisis, promoting the continued use of greenhouse gas producing energy and transportation options. Applications have been filed to build hundreds of new coal and nuclear power plants in the southeast and throughout the nation with total abandon toward health and environmental consequences, as legislators and regulators ease the way by offering taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies and incentives to the utility industry for taking this course.

We are marching one hundred miles through this magnificent but difficult terrain, through the treacherous curves of the Blue Ridge Parkway, through the dense acidic fog, haze and invisible ozone, through the heat of the August sun, to the heights of Newfound Gap, Waterrock Knob and Richland Balsam, past the history of Cold Mountain and the Cradle of Forestry, past the majesty of Mount Pisgah and the serenity of Hominy Valley, to the streets of Asheville, to announce that people of conscience are working to reverse irresponsible government and industrial energy and transportation policies and we are determined to take responsibility and succeed in our efforts.

We are marching for our children and grandchildren and for future generations.

Avram Friedman is the executive director of the Canary Coalition, a grassroots clean-air group based in Sylva, N.C. For a schedule and more information about the relay, call 828-631-3447 or visit the group's Web site.