Archive for January, 2009

Make way for the “GORACLE”

Friday, January 30th, 2009

al-gore-breathing-fire

Al Gore, everybody with the web knows, is the prophet of Global Warming, and somebody we respect immensely, even if he’s a little stiff and prone to bizzare body swings. The following is a hilarious and interesting column that hearkens back to L.A.’s smog wars. We didn’t have the Goracle as a knowledge, if celebrity personality. We had starchy engineers, the swarthy, perpetually angry Ralph Nader, the bespectacled populist Kenneth Hahn and a battalion of citizen activists who’d eventually carve the shoreline of the today’s environmental movement. If that doesn’t make you buy Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, just read the book and you may be rewarded with some paranormal power … like the ability to tolerate more bleak, distressing news than any organism should.

From the column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank:

“The lawmakers gazed in awe at the figure before them. The Goracle had seen the future, and he had come to tell them about it.

What the Goracle saw in the future was not good: temperature changes that “would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the Earth — and this is within this century, if we don’t change.”

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry (D-Mass.), appealed to hear more of the Goracle’s premonitions. “Share with us, if you would, sort of the immediate vision that you see in this transformative process as we move to this new economy,” he beseeched.

“Geothermal energy,” the Goracle prophesied. “This has great potential; it is not very far off.”

Another lawmaker asked about the future of nuclear power. “I have grown skeptical about the degree to which it will expand,” the Goracle spoke.

A third asked the legislative future — and here the Goracle spoke in riddle. “The road to Copenhagen has three steps to it,” he said.

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) begged the Goracle to look further into the future. “What does your modeling tell you about how long we’re going to be around as a species?” he inquired.

The Goracle chuckled. “I don’t claim the expertise to answer a question like that, Senator.”

It was a jarring reminder that the Goracle is, indeed, mortal. Once Al Gore was a mere vice president, but now he is a Nobel laureate and climate-change prophet. He repeats phrases such as “unified national smart grid” the way he once did “no controlling legal authority” — and the ridicule has been replaced by worship, even by his political foes.

“Tennessee,” gushed Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Gore’s home state, “has a legacy of having people here in the Senate and in public service that have been of major consequence and contributed in a major way to the public debate, and you no doubt have helped build that legacy.” If that wasn’t quite enough, Corker added: “Very much enjoyed your sense of humor, too.”

Humor? From Al Gore? “I benefit from low expectations,” he replied.

The lawmakers gazed in awe at the figure before them. The Goracle had seen the future, and he had come to tell them about it.

What the Goracle saw in the future was not good: temperature changes that “would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the Earth — and this is within this century, if we don’t change.”

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry (D-Mass.), appealed to hear more of the Goracle’s premonitions. “Share with us, if you would, sort of the immediate vision that you see in this transformative process as we move to this new economy,” he beseeched.

“Geothermal energy,” the Goracle prophesied. “This has great potential; it is not very far off.”

Another lawmaker asked about the future of nuclear power. “I have grown skeptical about the degree to which it will expand,” the Goracle spoke.

A third asked the legislative future — and here the Goracle spoke in riddle. “The road to Copenhagen has three steps to it,” he said.

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) begged the Goracle to look further into the future. “What does your modeling tell you about how long we’re going to be around as a species?” he inquired.

The Goracle chuckled. “I don’t claim the expertise to answer a question like that, Senator.”

It was a jarring reminder that the Goracle is, indeed, mortal. Once Al Gore was a mere vice president, but now he is a Nobel laureate and climate-change prophet. He repeats phrases such as “unified national smart grid” the way he once did “no controlling legal authority” — and the ridicule has been replaced by worship, even by his political foes.

“Tennessee,” gushed Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Gore’s home state, “has a legacy of having people here in the Senate and in public service that have been of major consequence and contributed in a major way to the public debate, and you no doubt have helped build that legacy.” If that wasn’t quite enough, Corker added: “Very much enjoyed your sense of humor, too.”

Humor? From Al Gore? “I benefit from low expectations,” he replied …”

California waiver here we come. It’s no dream.

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

After years of getting the cold shoulder from the Bush Administration, President Obama instead nudged the environmental world toward the intersection of common sense and desperately needed. California and other states now likely will have the right to set their own greenhouse-gas tailpipe standards. Los Angeles Times story link here for your reading pleasure. It’s deja vu for longtimers who wheezed through decades of searing, eye-charring, life-shortening L.A. smog, and saw a ray of sunshine, if not the MIA West Coast sun, when Congress in Novemember 1967 voted to allow the state to establish its own thresholds and limits on smog borne from millions of car tailpipes.

The parallels were so striking that the New York Times asked us to knock out a little something. When the gray lady calls, you get the door. Our book, Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, is not just a local tale of color and chaos. More importantly, when a White House up to its neck in bubble crises makes global warming a priority, perhaps it’s time to savor the achievement and wonder what else might be possible.

From Chip’s Op-ed on the New York Times blog:

“Despite the drumbeat of grim economic news up and down the state, Californians today no doubt are celebrating President Obama’s decision to allow states to enact anti-global warming auto emission standards stricter than federal rules. They’re also in a befuddled state of what-took-so-long deja vu.

For those who don’t remember, thick, noxious, russet-hued air pollution from the 1940s on used to blanket a good part of the Los Angeles area a goodly part of the year. When it dawned on desperate environmental officials here in the late 1960s that California needed to drop the hammer on the politically powerful, sales-oriented car companies by forcing them to slash ozone-forming compounds with regulations far sterner than the national limits, the industry rolled out the same arguments we’ve seen on the greenhouse gas front. “It’s not fair to do this state by state.” “It’ll cost too much.” “It’s technologically infeasible.” “Production chaos isn’t good for consumers.”

No matter how much southern Californians adored their cars, they began seeing the speciousness of these arguments, and that what the automakers seemed to care most about was the yearly sales ledger, not technological improvements that supposedly would drive certain models out of people’s price range. So in 1967, aided by some plucky California politicians, a young Ralph Nader and a well-timed radio documentary titled “A Breath of Death,” about smog’s pernicious stranglehold on the L.A. dream, the state built a congressional coalition with other increasingly polluted states and resisted efforts, primarily led by Representative John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat, to put so-called emission standards on the shelf.

And yes, it’s the same John Dingell! Not that it was easy. Not that the then Big Four automakers and their lobbyists didn’t try everything they could to blunt the attack on their tailpipe waste. Yet when 500,000 pro-waiver letters were dumped on the Capitol steps and dreary pictures of skyline-obliterated Los Angeles went up in the Rotunda, the tide began changing …”

Overlook Press notation.

With all excuses to the 1960s’s feel-good, free-love reveries, the Mamas and the Papas I’m sure they’d be amenable to me using this Youtube blast from the past. Listen closely to the words. What an important day it was. Maybe the Artic, in about 1,000 years, will send us a thank you note as it refrosts.

Addition by subtraction – particulates and YOUR life span

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

particulate-pollution-satellite-map

If one ever wondered where environmental abstractions ended and tangible gains began, check out this latest study.

From an L.A. Times piece

“For those wondering just how much effect cleaning up the air can have, researchers now have a much fuller picture.

Reductions in particulate air pollution during the 1980s and 1990s led to an average five-month increase in life expectancy in 51 U.S. metropolitan areas, with some of the initially more polluted cities such as Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh showing a 10-month increase, researchers said Wednesday.

The reductions in pollution accounted for about 15% of a nearly three-year increase in life expectancy during the two decades, said epidemiologist C. Arden Pope III of Brigham Young University, lead author of the study appearing today in the New England Journal of Medicine … “

The dawn of understanding about particulates followed decades of focus on smog catalyst ozone, carbon monoxide and other emissions. It’s all covered in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

We’re back to regular posting, BTW, after the Holiday break. Hopefully the bleeding economy won’t swallow our digital network.

A South of the Border environmental victory.

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Big shocker: it’s mostly due to limiting urban traffic congestion and mandating changes in engine performance and gasoline formulations.

From the MSNBC story about Mexico City’s campaign against air pollution …

“… Not long ago, air in this throbbing capital was so bad that cyclists wore surgical masks. Birds fell dead in mid-flight, and children used brown crayons to draw the sky. Ozone exceeded safe levels on 97 percent of days in the year.

But the metropolis ranked the world’s most polluted by a 1992 U.N. report has since slashed some of its worst emissions by more than three-quarters and has become a model for improving urban air quality.

Capitals such as Beijing, Cairo, New Delhi and Lima are now more contaminated, according to the World Bank, while air in at least 30 other cities contains more toxic particles, including Barcelona and Prague.

… Learning from Los Angeles’ air cleanup, Mexico got to work changing technology and laws. Unleaded gasoline was introduced, catalytic converters were required on new cars, a major refinery was closed and power plants were pushed to switch from oil to natural gas. Factories moved away, decentralizing some of the clog.

The city began emissions tests in 1989 in a landmark program that banned old and failing cars from the road one day a week. Emulated in Beijing, Bogota, Seoul, Santiago, Sao Paulo and elsewhere, Mexico’s program now idles at least 320,000 cars a week …”

Where did many of these cleanup regimes orginate? You guessed it: Southern California. It’s one reason we wrote Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.