Episode 3: In Our Air

Kiran returns home to Los Angeles to investigate the hidden costs of pollution. Spoiler alert: we pay for it! 3.3 million Californians have asthma, and nowhere is pollution more rampant than in low-income communities.

Communities for a Better Environment

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) works to empower California residents with the tools they need to prevent and reduce pollution to achieve healthy and sustainable communities. CBE offers tours to spread awareness of the low-income communities that are affected by multiple sources of toxics and pollution that result in asthma, birth defects and cancer. Get involved by taking a toxic tour, volunteering or donating.

“My daughter got pneumonia three times, and it was all airborne. So I
know that it has something to do with our environment… At the age of five, they’re just like little sponges, taking in everything. And my daughter had to miss half of the school year.” —Wilmington resident Jenny Castillo

Los Angeles is not just home to the Lakers and Kanye’s Twitter account.

It’s also fighting a continually uphill battle against dirty air. Thanks to intense traffic, pollutant-trapping geography and irresponsible oil companies, many of the city’s residents—especially its poorer ones—suffer from preventable health problems.

Dr. Manuel Pastor is a social scientist (aka Fiesta Scientist) studying the links between poverty, race and pollution. “When you have a lot of environmental inequality,” he explains, “that is most of the burden is being borne by a small share of the population, you end up getting worse environmental quality altogether.”

Kiran sees the real-life implications of Dr. Pastor’s analysis in Wilmington, located a half hour south of downtown L.A. A staggering five oil refineries operate in the area. For years they were choking the people who lived nearby – thanks to a process known as “flaring”—basically the cheapest and dirtiest way for these companies to dispose of excess gasses. For a long time, the entire neighborhood was covered in a thick cloud of pollutants.

But residents found their voice and fought back. Alicia Rivera and her organization, Communities for a Better Environment, succeeded in winning some of the strictest flaring regulations in the country. Over the course of nine years, they showed how communities organizing for real change can overcome the power of dirty energy interests.


And there is one final lesson from Dr. Pastor: Kiran learns that sometimes creating the change you want to see in the world means throwing a party on a bus. 

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Dr. Manuel Pastor

Dr. Pastor explains to Kiran how the environmental movement doesn't look like an old bearded white guy riding a bicycle.

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