The extreme weather events of the past few months highlight that climate change is not a problem of the future, but a very real issue we are experiencing today. In fact, the old adage “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time is now” feels more apt than ever.

The weather tragedies of the summer and the news that Connecticut is again on track to fail the state’s emissions goals gave way to a brief hope that they might inspire the Connecticut General Assembly to finally vote on and pass the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Unfortunately despite the careful and thoughtful coverage of these developments and the clear link between climate change, air pollution and health, it seems our state representatives will miss this critical opportunity to right the ship.

Connecticut has some of the worst air pollution east of the Mississippi and the state’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory report shows we must do much more to clean up our air and protect the health of Connecticut residents. As a nurse, I see the health impact of poor air quality on people throughout the state. as well as the disparate burden of this issue on our Black and brown communities. Communities of color and low-income communities face inequitable pollution burdens exacerbated by vehicle traffic, particularly from diesel-burning vehicles as transit depots and freight hubs tend to be sited in their neighborhoods. Many of these same communities as well as people with disabilities, older residents, rural residents, and others too often face transportation barriers to healthcare, social services, and jobs.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative is as much about climate change as it is a bold and necessary step forward for public health. It is poised to reduce transportation pollution, reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change, improve health and invest in cleaner, faster and more reliable public transportation.

By reducing our emissions and cleaning up our air we stand to drastically improve a range of health concerns and outcomes. We know air pollution causes aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms, and cardiovascular harm. We must reduce our emissions to help protect everyone from poor health outcomes, especially young children, senior citizens and other vulnerable populations.

As a board member of the American Lung Association, I urge lawmakers in Connecticut to protect our health by improving our air quality. TCI is not only a necessary tool to help reduce pollution disproportionately impacting these communities, but it will also make a meaningful investment in health and environmental justice. The best time to act to protect our health and our climate was 20 years ago, but the second-best time is now.

Jane Z. Reardon, MSN, RN is a pulmonary clinical nurse specialist and Board Member of the American Lung Association in Connecticut.