Archive for the ‘Outsiders’ views of our dirty air’ Category

Save the EPA from Republican bomb-throwers with a Smogtown Op-Ed in the NY Times, and other green news

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

* A snippet from my editorial in today’s New York Times “Room for Debate” online roudtable about whether Republican presidential candidates calling for the EPA’s dissolution have a point or are just giving red-meat to a fatigued, job-hungry people:

” … In national politics, California may be seen as Exhibit A for over-regulating the environment. But anyone making that argument must ignore what the state was like before the Environmental Protection Agency. Its rules and enforcement have made California a livable, thriving state. Now, if you’re a Republican presidential candidate irate about America’s wheezy economy, it’s easy to go Red Queen and call for guillotining the E.P.A. Scapegoating regulators as job-killing obstructionists can pump up the faithful, but it doesn’t reflect well on America’s environmental maturity. None of the White House hopefuls mention the expected $2 trillion in health and environmental benefits from the Clean Air Act by 2020. Few of the greenhouse skeptics, in fact, even broach fresh air at all, perhaps because they hail from states where it was never toxic …”

Read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, and you’ll see just how instrumental California’s smog epidemic was in galvanizing an environmental ethos that led to creation of the EPA itself. The effects of those untamed, brown-exhaust-blowing tailpipes spawned a bureaucracy.

And now for something completely greener, we think.

* San Joaquin Valley toxic dump agrees to spend $1 million to better manage hazardous waste. From the L.A. Times:

“A toxic waste dump near a San Joaquin Valley community plagued by birth defects has agreed to pay $400,000 in fines and spend $600,000 on laboratory upgrades needed to properly manage hazardous materials at the facility, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday. The penalties were part of a consent decree that capped an 18-month investigation by the EPA and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control into the Chemical Waste Management landfill about 3 1/2 miles southwest of Kettleman City, a community of 1,500 mostly low-income Latino farmworkers. Company records revealed at least 18 instances over the last six years in which toxic waste had to be excavated from the landfill after it was learned that the laboratory had mistakenly concluded the material met treatment standards, EPA officials said …”

* The California-led greenhosue gas cap-and-trade was supposed to be a shiney achievement of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration. It’s turned out to be something much more complicated, divisive and legally perilious than anyone believed. Still, the state Air Resources Board remains behind it through the court challenges and liberal backlash. Having covered the Anne Sholtz caper with the smog cap and trade here in Southern California, color me skeptical about how much a green market will achieve. Then again, this is the West Coast where we build the future day by day. From the L.A. Times:

“The California Air Resources Board voted to reaffirm its cap-and-trade plan Wednesday, a decision that puts the nation’s first-ever state carbon trading program back on track, for now. The on-again, off-again rules have been years in the making and are meant to complement AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law that mandates a reduction in carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. The air board adopted a preliminary carbon trading plan in late 2008 but was sued by environmental justice groups in 2009. A San Francisco judge in March ordered the air board to more comprehensively analyze alternatives to the market-based trading system, such as a carbon tax or fee. In a unanimous vote in Sacramento on Wednesday, the board adopted the revised environmental analysis while still affirming its original decision. But the board’s vote may not forestall another legal challenge. The original plaintiffs argued in Wednesday’s hearing that the revised analysis still failed to adequately consider other options. UCLA law professor Cara Horowitz said “most assuredly” the matter would be back before the court. Board chief Mary Nichols said she has not always supported cap and trade in part because it would be difficult to administer. “I had my doubts,” she said, adding that many details remain to be hashed out. “It is a form of California leadership that involves some risk. This is still the most viable of the alternatives to achieve the goals of AB 32.” Originally scheduled for implementation next year, industry compliance with the cap-and-trade program will now take effect in 2013 …”

Smogtown set for e-book for Kindle and other mobile devices August 23. It’s a helluva, brown story for a warming age.

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Click here at amazon.com and let the journey begin

Some reasons to download it:

* Named one of 2008′s best environmental books by Booklist magazine

* Awarded silver medals at The Green Book Festival and Independent Book Publishers (IPPY) Awards. Winner of the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature from Santa Monica.

* Reviews

“[A] remarkably entertaining and informative chronicle of the birth and—so far—inexorable evolution of smog… This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists (including Arie Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist who was “the Elvis of his field”), hapless politicians, and a nebulous biochemical villain who just will not be stopped.” –Booklist (Starred review)

“The history of smog has never been so sexy” — Los Angeles Times

“Smog in all its hazy-and sometimes humorous-permutations … a zany and provocative cultural history.” — Kirkus

“Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist.”– Publishers Weekly

“… a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it … … The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables … ” — Bookforum

“The narrative that emerges is more than a tale of a region and a populace besieged by smog; it is also a parable for a nation beset by environmental and social problems … (a) well-researched cultural history” — Slate

“Writing in a hip, lively style, …[An] intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away. Recommended.” – Library Journal

“A well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California’s battle with “the beast,” as the authors lovingly refer to smog. … Smogtown is not your typical “green’s” diatribe against big business and weak government. No, Jacobs and Kelly are much smarter-and fairer-than that” — Sustainablog

* From the dust jacket description:

“The smog beast wafted into downtown Los Angeles on July 26, 1943. Nobody knew what it was. Secretaries rubbed their eyes. Traffic cops seemed to disappear in the mysterious haze. Were Japanese saboteurs responsible? A reckless factory? The truth was much worse–it came from within, from Southern California’s burgeoning car-addicted, suburban lifestyle. Smogtown is the story of pollution, progress, and how an optimistic people confronted the epic struggle against airborne poisons barraging their hometowns. With wit, verve, and a fresh look at history, California based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly highlight the bold personalities involved, the corporate- tainted science, the terrifying health costs, the attempts at cleanup, and how the smog battle helped mold the modern-day culture of Los Angeles. There are scofflaws aplenty and dirty deals, plus murders, suicides, spiritual despair, and an ever-present paranoia about mass disaster. Brimming with historic photographs, forgotten anecdotes, and new revelations about our environmentally precarious present, Smogtown is a journalistic classic for the modern age.”

The view of brown L.A. from green Washington and the dawn of the smog-eating building

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Us native Southern Californians are five degrees of jaded when it comes to breathing toxic, emission-rich air. Our lungs are psyches have never known anything else. Not so for people in America’s Great Northwest, where frequent rainfull fills the atmosphere rather than stagnant ozone, diesel particulates and a tired acceptance that we’ve beat back the smog monster as far as we can in our freeway culture.

Recently, I noticed a blog where a young Washingtonian who previously hadn’t heard much about L.A.’s sixty-year tango with smog did some web surfing and found himself disgusted and curious that despite 2.5 generations of improvement the smog crowns remain firmly on the heads of us Californians.

Outside perspectives are sometimes the best way for us to reflect. From Greencupboards, here how Connor interprets our hazy landscape. If nothing else, the historic pictures he links – including the infamous, 1950s L.A. club meeting where attendees wore gas masks as dark humor — are worth the mouse click.

“… I recently visited Los Angeles, California on a spring break trip. Looking up at the moon at night I was startled to see an orange glow radiating from it like a halo. This is not how the moon looks in Washington, where it appears pure and white, not here. I kept a keen eye out for smog in California as I traveled throughout the state, visiting both Azusa and Occidental Universities where I continued to gauge my visibility level. It was raining for the beginning of my trip so for the most part visibility was good. As I drove to the airport to leave the state the sun was coming up. The higher it got, the worse the visibility became. Mountains I could once see were lost to the golden haze of smog. Over the city in the airplane I looked down. I could barely see the ground- not due to height, but the orange haze that covered it like a dirty cotton ball. As I flew north I was relieved to clearly see the greenery below as I came back to Washington …”

From the department of why-didn’t-I-think of us, somebody has engineered a product that old smog generals here would’ve been doing half-gainers over if they hadn’t to fight the car companies tooth and nail in the 1950s and 1960s to make their vehicles less fumy. Anybody ready for “smog-eating buildings”? Aluminun titan Alcoa Corp. says it has invented a titanium-dioxide coating applied over commerical paint that exploits chemical reactions to break down nitrogen oxide and other unwelcome smog constituents. Not only does the coating keep the building clean, it helps purify the surrounding air, too.

Welcome to the 21st Century. From the fascinating, if brief Forbes story:

“… Candidly, when you first learn about this technology you think, ‘Wow you’ve got to be kidding,’” Craig Belnap, president of Alcoa Architectural Products, said last week when he gave me a sneak preview of the EcoClean panel at the company’s New York City offices in the iconic Lever House.

He holds up a mini-me version of a silver aluminum-skinned building panel like you’d find on any skyscraper in anywhere U.S.A.

It looks utterly unremarkable.

But invisible to the naked eye is a coating of titanium dioxide layered on top of the silver paint. Titanium dioxide particles serve as photo catalysts and when struck by sunlight their electrons become supercharged and interact with water molecules in the air. That interaction releases free radicals that break down organic material on the building panel and pollutants such as nitrogen oxide in the surrounding atmosphere.

“It’s really those free radicals that do all the work,” says Belnap. “They’re the components that attack organic material and oxidize them down to harmless compounds that can eventually be washed away by rain water …”