Archive for December, 2008

In this holiday season, why not put a little smoggy brown story under the tree? We’re just saying …

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Remarkably entertaining and informative … This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists ( … 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

“historical heft … style delivers substance in true Hollywood fashion, with character-driven plots draped in glamour and sensation … the history of smog has never been so sexy”
Los Angeles Times

a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it
- Bookforum

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

a well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California’s battle with “the beast” … not your typical “green’s” diatribe against big business and weak government. No, Jacobs and Kelly are much smarter–and fairer–than that
- Sustainablog

“In this tale of underhanded deals, gritty politics, community organizing and burgeoning environmentalism, the corruption is plentiful and the subplots replete with intrigue … the authors offer a zany and provocative cultural history”
- Kirkus

“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 … Among the pleasures of this well-researched cultural history is revisiting the past by way of old newspaper articles and archival material, which expose both hapless guesses and dogged persistence on the way to smog literacy.”
- Slate

- “Hip and lively .. an intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away.” Recommended.
Library Journal

Los Angeles magazine Fall 2008 book pick
amazon.com link

In pursuit of cooler climes and a salvaged state, California did once it once again

Friday, December 12th, 2008

The California Air Resources Board has laid out the specifics of the boldest plan in the nation to reduce greenhouse gases. What we’re undertaking with carbon dioxide and other global warming gases — a whopping 15 percent cut, to 1990 levels, by 2020 — state environmental officials also accomplished with air pollution ingredients beginning in the 1960s. Yes, the past is prologue, and deep recession or not, political turmoil and all, the Golden State has puts its green credentials on the line. Others soon will be toting it. For real perspective on West Coast ecological leadership, check out our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. We’ll be blogging a lot more about this, including the controversial cap-and-trade mainstay element to the plan, in the days and daze ahead. As Ron Burgundy might say, “You stay green, California.”

From today’s L.A. Times report:

Given the state’s fast-growing population and sprawling suburban development, its emissions are on track to increase by 30% over 1990 levels by 2020. The new blueprint would slash the state’s carbon footprint over the next 12 years by a total of 174 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent of 4 metric tons for every resident.

Despite the reach of the state’s effort, it would barely make a dent in global warming: The state’s emissions account for about 1.5% of the world’s emissions. Nonetheless, air board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said California’s leadership has spurred other states to move ahead. “We are filling a vacuum left by inaction at the federal level,” she said.

More than two dozen states have committed to capping emissions since California passed its landmark 2006 global warming law, the trigger for Thursday’s action by the Air Resources Board.

California has joined with four Canadian provinces and seven western states to form a regional cap-and-trade program. Under the program, the states would set a total allowable amount of emissions — as California did in its blueprint. Utilities and other large industries would be required to obtain allowances to cover their emissions. If companies cut emissions more than required, they can sell their extra emission reductions to firms that are not able to meet their targets.

A cap-and-trade system has been adopted in Europe, where it was initially fraught with logistical problems and afforded windfall profits to many industries. California’s system, which would apply to industries responsible for 85% of its emissions, is the most controversial aspect of its plan …

Sustainablog’s review of Smogtown: the dirty work of progress can be an “entertaining” and “engaging” read, if not a “sexy” one

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Here’s the full review

Passages from Justin Van Kleeck’s takeout:

“The tale of one American city’s epic struggle with smog may not strike you as the most interesting of reads. It sounds more like a government report than a page-turner. But when that city is Los Angeles, things become much more complicated…and, I might as well say it, sexy.

In Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly provide a well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California’s battle with “the beast,” as the authors lovingly refer to smog. Placed firmly in the tradition of good old muckraking journalism, Smogtown covers over sixty years of pollution making and pollution fighting in Los Angeles.

… Despite its clear intention of making a case for environmental awareness and action, 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 in this book.

As you might expect, they pull no punches when detailing the ways that major corporations, particularly car companies and power producers, create the ingredients of smog. Since well before Los Angeles mushroomed into the megalopolis and mega-market that it is today, various producers have pushed development, consumption, and idyllic comfort to the masses…creating the desire for what those businesses are there to sell.

But along with this critical account of corporate influence, and government complicit weakness, Jacobs and Kelly train the spotlight on southern Californians themselves as key contributors to the very problem that has damaged so many aspects of life in the area.

Because of this focus on the human element, Smogtown plays out like a soap opera, with a cast of characters ranging from arch-villains to valiant heroes: “the dragon lady,” “Haagy,” “Moonbeam,” “The Governator.” The authors’ historical story exposes the roots and rampages of smog, how a prodigious population explosion and growing consumption “essentially…turned nature against itself.”
(more…)

Assuring environmental justice as California moves forward fighting global warming is going to require hard thinking and remembering how the poor and disenfranchised tend to get stuck inhaling somebobdy else’s waste

Monday, December 8th, 2008

The state’s bellweather 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, known wonkishly as AB-32 (the AB stands for Assembly Bill), requires California to roll back greenhouses gases emissions like carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by 2020. As history has repeatedly proven, when the federal government won’t take the green bull by the horns, California will — and we have the puncture wounds to prove it. The California Air Resources Board approved a pollution-credit exchange called a “cap-and-trade” as one of the primary means to achieve these dramatic reducations, but as anybody who has followed these markets will tell you, they only work as well as their architecture, oversight and flexibility provide. Many don’t realize what one rogue smog trader did to the AQMD’s watershed RECLAIM program. We spend time on the subject of the brazen Anne Sholtz and the exchange she defrauded in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. There’s plenty in there too about how low-wage, minority-laden cities have historically taken it on the chin when it comes to big industry locating and dumping on them, often with the blessing of regulators sworn to protect them. (We also identify one of the first EJ moments anyone can remember when a group of mothers from South Central Los Angeles protested garbage dump fumes they contended were making their kids ill.)

The greenhouse gas market under AB-32 is going to dwarf AQMD’s smog-credit market in activity, complexity and stakes. There’s a lot of activity going into the bill’s implementation plan, and just as much behind-the-scenes action by environmental groups and others to insert language that protects low-income and rural neighborhoods from becoming virtual emission dumping grounds under AB-32. This is not an abstract alarm. It’s happened repeatedly during the air pollution fight, particularly near the ports and the gritty, low-slung communities that line them and the nearby freeways. The latter part of Smogtown hits this issue hard. As for AB-32, what’s to prevent new or expanding industry to move in there, pollute as their permit allows, but offset that GW damage far away from ther source or not sufficiently enough? Will the strictures in the legislation intended to prevent that really work?

One of the area’s largest environmental groups, the Coalition for Clean Air, has made enshrining further protections for areas that usually don’t have much of a political voice one of its paramount campaigns. They want the Air Resources Board to accept three requirements before the marketplace wheeling and dealing gets underway. The Coalition knows what happens in California environmentally becomes the gold standard copied and analyzed around the nation and the world. If we blow it here, the upshot in a warming world could be pretty rough. In general, the Coalition is asking:

1. For the ARB to pinpoint areas already overwhelmed by pollution sources, and label them “hot spots.” Only after this assessment is done by the end of 2009 should the law kick in. You can’t protect something if you’re not sure where it is.
2. Because the law was shaped to not only protect poor and rural areas saddled with disportionate pollution from multiple sources but to assist them as well, the Coalition has advocated that a portion of the money created by the cap-and-trade go into a so-called “Community Benefits Fund.” This pool of cash would offset, by different types of mitigation strategies, some of the existing airbone pollution and help bankroll community and local-government programs dealing with episodic climate change problems right in their backyard. Besides readying for heat waves, some of the money could go for upgrading to energy-efficient equipment and replacing “dirty” vehicles with cleaner ones. Robin-Hoodish Ideas like this has been on local regulators’ books for years. It’s also been a focus of contention.
3. Finally, the Coalition wants limitations on credit purchases and use. If a company, for instance, wants to add new emissions to an existing hot spot community, that company would have to pay a premium into the Community Benefits Fund so the area can compensate for the additional pollution throw-weight being shoveled onto it. This is not all that different from what some developers must do to soften the impact of their construction in dense or troubled areas. There also needs to be a general vigilance and hard limits about how much pollution is allowed to be shifted from one community to another with offsets and mitigations and permitting, and policing of the entire system so everybody is cutting their global warming emissiins and not just manuvering in the market.

It’s all tricky stuff that has to be hashed out

We encourage people to educate themselves about AB-32, environmental justice, pollution credit markets and the vested interests hovering around all of it. One of the lessons of Smogtown was that when the people became complacent, the skies grew worse. Back in the 1960s, there was no market incentives like this to de-filth Los Angeles’ airshed. Now there is for good old climate change, and it’s probably going global soon than you think. (President-elect Obama supports a national cap-and-trade regimen). Not incidentally, the American Lung Association and others supports the Coalition’s plank.

To learn more about the Coalition’s proposal, visit this link.

Another useful link: here

More insight about air pollution’s harmful effects on infants and the young from the UCLA Institute for the Environment

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

From one part of this report:

” … Only in the 1990s, did studies begin to systematically investigate links between air pollution and infant mortality. These studies largely focused on potential mortality impacts of airborne particulate matter small enough to penetrate into the human respiratory tract, referred to as PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in aerodynamic diameter) and more recently have examined PM2.5, even smaller size particles which can penetrate deep into the lung. Most findings from this research indicated infants living in areas with high levels of these types of particulate matter had a greater risk of mortality during the first year of life, particularly from respiratory causes. In our own study of the SoCAB between 1989 and 2000, we found higher risks of infant mortality for very young infants (1-3 months of age) breathing high levels of carbon monoxide (CO), and that infants 4-12 months of age exposed to high levels of particulate matter (PM10) were at higher risk of death from respiratory illnesses. Furthermore, infants exposed to high concentrations of the gaseous pollutant nitrogen dioxide were at increased risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, studies of air pollution’s effect on SIDS to date are equivocal[2], while results for particulate matter and respiratory infant mortality are fairly consistent and further supported by the strong and well established link between particles and adult mortality. These studies nevertheless have not been able to identify the specific components of particulate matter, nor elucidate the mechanism by which these pollutants affect health in children and infants, which may be different from adults …”

Link to entire study at the Institute: here.

This is the latest history. We capture the older part of the story about smog and public health in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Intriguing clean-air/blue sky website out of D.C. If you can’t catch the latest on air pollution, at least these guys do.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Here’s the website home page for Clean Air Watch. The non profit produces a ton of material and links a boatload more. They have one fascinating story up about who is allowed to own the skies – polluters or us citizens. Link

From the introductory statement:

“We’ve made progress in cleaning up the air. But it’s way too soon to breathe easy. Tens of thousands of Americans are still dying early from dirty air. Many others suffer from asthma attacks, bronchitis and other disease made worse by pollution. At the same time, greenhouse gas emissions threaten the planet with global catastrophe. Despite these problems, many in Congress seem more interested in the views of check-writing polluters … Meanwhile, powerful corporate interests seek to make sure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency protects them, not breathers. That’s where we come in. As our name suggests, Clean Air Watch is a non-profit watchdog group that seeks to protect the public interest. We closely monitor clean-air and climate policy and seek to present a public-interest perspective – one that is grounded in fact and analysis, not just a lot of hot air. We educate the public about the value of clean air (and related developments in science regarding air and climate), and blow the whistle when miscreants attempt dirty deeds in the dark.”

Spend some time on their site and you’ll come away more educated than you began and perhaps a little ticked off. Their view of the world smog situation looks like it dovetails with the themes in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Who says the environmental movement really dawned in the 1970s? Listen to the opening lyrics from George Harrison — “There’s a fog upon LA …” —

Monday, December 1st, 2008

in this Beatles song “Blue Jay Way” from the Magical Mystery Tour album. Harrison wrote the off-tempo piece after renting a place on Blue Jay Way, a steep, winding road in the Beverly Glen off the Sunset Strip. High up in the hills (in more ways than one), Harrison could view the L.A. floorbed absolutely smothered in noxious brown-orange smog. But why believe us? Listen to Beatle George. This is not our favorite song from the lads. Not by any stretch. It’d just a item that hits close to home. In our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, we hit on how air pollution threaded into popular culture, and cite a Doors song about the end of civilization. Brilliant lyrics by the Lizard King no doubt, but the Magic Mystery Tour deserves credit by highlighting smog in all its LA blinding preeminence. Enjoy!