May 09, 2018 / 16:55

Air Quality is About Choices

The Hanoitimes - Below is the exclusive paper of US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink for Hanoitimes, to mark the Clean Air Act being passed 48 years ago.

US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink.
US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink.
Like many countries, the United States has had to deal with the challenges of air pollution.  During my parents’ generation, air pollution was a subject of intense debate, and the outcome was a law passed in 1970, known as the Clean Air Act.  It turned out to be one of the most important U.S. laws of the 20th Century, and best of all, it cleaned the air without hurting our economy.  In fact, between 1970 and 2014, U.S. national emissions dropped an average of 69 percent, while gross domestic product grew by 238 percent.
Of course, there is still more to be done, not just in the United States, but worldwide.  That’s why the United States Mission to Vietnam is observing Air Quality Awareness Week from May 7-11, 2018, and we’d be honored for you to join us in discussing ways all of us can work together to reduce air pollution. 
But first, please allow me to share my personal background.  I have the great privilege to be the United States Ambassador to Vietnam.  I also have the great privilege to be a father to two children.  When they play basketball and football, I want them to exercise, be healthy, and grow strong.  As a parent, I also want to protect them from air pollution.  My family lived in China for many years, so we understand how air quality affects health…especially the health of children, whose lungs are still growing.  At home, I am able to protect my family with air filters, though I am very aware not everyone can do this. 
At the U.S. Embassy and Consulate, we do our utmost to protect our employees, and to help improve air quality in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.  We publish air quality data; this data is accurate, free of charge, and available to .  We have instituted a Mission policy to turn off cars when not in use.  We are installing energy-efficient air conditioners and lighting in our homes and offices.  And we are examining additional ways to ensure clean air in our offices.  I am painfully aware not every institution can do this, but for those that can, I urge you to do your part.
What can Vietnam do to protect air quality?  Let me start by saying this is a Vietnamese decision.  When it comes to air quality, while the United States has had our share of problems, we’re doing our best to deal with them, and we’re happy to share our hard-won knowledge.  However, I always respect the fact that Vietnamese must decide Vietnam’s destiny. 
And all of us, regardless of where we live, are in this together.  Almost 55 years ago, President Kennedy once remarked on this fact: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.  We all breathe the same air.  We all cherish our children's future.  And we are all mortal.”
Ultimately, air quality is about choices.  In the United States, my parent’s generation chose to clean the air.  They passed laws, they implemented regulations, they learned what worked and what didn’t, and they kept trying until they got the result they wanted.  It wasn’t easy, but everyone in my generation has benefitted from their wisdom.  And everyone had to do their part.  Therefore, in the spirit of seeking cleaner air for the next generation, I humbly offer the following suggestions for your consideration.
Individuals: Walk or bicycle instead of driving, if that is possible.  Turn off vehicles when not in use.  Turn off lights to save power and reduce coal emissions. 
Companies and offices: Install office air filters, and energy efficient air conditioners and lights.  Consider a no vehicle idling policy.
Government:  Shift from coal to renewable sources of energy, and begin emissions testing and enforcement of motorbikes.  We test motorbike emissions in the United States.  So does China.  So does Japan.  So does Korea.
For more information on air quality, please visit our .   
With utmost respect,
Dan Kritenbrink