Palak Srivastava, Finalist, Local Letters for Global Change

A hazy view of London from the sky. Image by Rohan Naik. United Kingdom, 2018.

A hazy view of London from the sky. Image by Rohan Naik. United Kingdom, 2018.

This letter features reporting from "The New Battle for London’s Air" by Rohan Naik

Dear Ms. Ocasio-Cortez,

My name is Palak Srivastava. I live in Brooklyn and I am a sophomore at Stuyvesant High School. I am writing to you today to share my concern about one of the most critical issues facing us at this time.

Our world is a complicated place that is made up of many issues, both large and small, that need to be addressed. However, some of the more dangerous issues sometimes are glossed over with the thought that they aren’t as important. One issue that I am deeply concerned is not getting enough attention is air pollution.

I am aware that you realize that air pollution is just as dangerous as gun control or terrorism, attacking us in a more subtle manner. This is a widespread problem that people around the globe are facing. Today, London is a city that is dealing with it at an extreme level. Rohan Naik describes the struggle London is faced with in his article “The New Battle for London’s Air.” Air pollution is not necessarily a new problem for London. The country’s biggest environmental disaster resulted from an extreme amount of air pollution known as the great smog back in the 1950s. During this time, a thick layer of smog had formed over the city, leading to the death of more than a thousand people and to asthma problems in many others. This led to the creation of the Clean Air Act of 1956, which showed people that pollution can be regulated and diminished. However, even though it seemed the problem was contained, London’s air quality has recently become dangerous once again. Although not filled with the same dangers as before, the air now has hazardous levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, both of which are very harmful to people’s airways and lungs. London’s war on air pollution, thought to be over, is continuing, leading to more casualties and putting children at a greater risk than ever for health problems. It is very sad to see such a beautiful city at the mercy of an issue that is society’s own creation.

This issue is important to people everywhere, including those of us here in New York. It was estimated that because of particulate matter and ozone levels in the air, there could be up to 2,700 premature deaths in New York—2,700 deaths too many. You may not be able to see it in action, but air pollution is one of the world’s biggest killers and will continue to affect our lives greatly. I find it hard to go to what was once a beautiful park, Sunset Park, because the park is riddled with industrial centers that create high levels of pollution within it. I took some of my friends and family on a toxic tour of the area and all were shocked to see the level of pollution and how real the problem in our city really is.

The issue of air pollution not only affects me here in New York, but in my home country of India as well. Delhi, India has a reputation for being one of the most polluted cities in the world, and speaking from personal experience, it is in a very bad state. I have gone to India many times in the past few years, and each time I return, right after I land, I am  stuck by just how clear the air is here as compared to Delhi.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, I am a big fan of yours and am very aware of your stance on this environmental problem. Your goal of making the switch to 100% sustainable energy is one I admire greatly and think is a necessary change we need to make right now. Along with this switch, I have some ideas of things you could do as well. For example, many cities in China started to take advantage of their public transit systems and have implemented a new way for their citizens to pay for transit: plastic. Now, instead of using money, people have the option of using any piece of plastic that would otherwise be thrown away. I think this is an ingenious idea that addresses two important issues. It reduces excess plastic on the streets and also gives people more incentive to use mass transit since paying with plastic is often cheaper than using money.

In the long term, this increased use of mass transit could eventually lead to significant improvements in the environmental health of various cities, especially a city like ours, since the subway is one of its most defining characteristics. However, no matter what action is taken, I think that the most important thing above all is to keep air pollution in mind during our daily routines and make sure we each do our part to protect the health of our planet, our communities, and ourselves.

Sincerely,
Palak Srivastava

Palak Srivastava

Palak Srivastava is a sophomore at Stuyvesant High School in NY. With a wide variety of interests she is part of the varsity tennis and fencing teams and also holds a passion for the environment. As a member of the environmental and environthon clubs, she wants to help bring about environmental justice. She lives with her parents and a ten-year-old sister in Brooklyn, and in her free time enjoys binging Netflix.

Click here to read more winners and finalists from the 2018 Local Letters for Global Change contest.