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In 1994, a group of residents near a cement plant in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolis  (DFW) found out they were burning hazardous waste and decided to fight back. After a long and arduous battle, the group of citizen activists finally won in 2008 with the Green Cement Procurement Ordinance. The group, now Downwinders at Risk, remains dedicated to regional clean air issues working to educate the public and strive for clean air legislation.

Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck says smog has been a problem in the DFW area for nearly 30 years, and climate change is making it worse. “When it’s hotter, smog increases because it makes dust, or particulate matter, in the atmosphere worse,” he emphasizes. Yet people can take both small and large actions to help improve the health of our climate and our populace.

“It’s just about becoming more aware of what you do,” Schermbeck explains. “Particulate matter comes from the tailpipes of cars, but most people think nothing of sitting in a drive-through line or waiting for kids to get out of school while letting the engine run; that has a consequence. If we can get people to think about those tailpipes as cigarettes and realize the consequences of that stuff being discharged into the air, that would be a big accomplishment on our part.”

On a larger scale, people can work toward legislative action through nonprofits. Schermbeck welcomes people to join not just Downwinders at Risk, but also other organizations dedicated to clean air issues such as Climate Lobby and The Sierra Club.

Although Schermbeck has observed a series of recent setbacks in the U.S. regarding efforts to curb climate change, he believes it cannot be ignored much longer. He cites intense storms such as Hurricane Harvey as an example. “I think people are beginning to understand that individual actions and collective actions have consequences, so we need to get together and change things,” he says. “Persistence tends to pay off in the long run in a way that people don’t give it credit for. As a regional group, Downwinders at Risk got clean air ordinances passed. It takes a lot of work to change things, but my group shows that positive things can happen.”

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