Archive for May, 2011

Sierra Club wants big changes in Schwarzenegger-originated West Coast cap and trade … and other green shoots

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

* From the L.A. Times:

“The Sierra Club of California, the state’s oldest and largest environmental group, called on Gov. Jerry Brown this week to substantially rewrite the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger considered to be his greatest legacy.

…  Among the club’s complaints: industrial plants would be allowed to avoid curbing their own pollution by purchasing offsets from out of state, and possibly foreign-nation projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions in other ways. “Excessive reliance on offsets could open up loopholes that undermine the very purposes of California’s AB 32 cap on emissions,” the letter said. “Curbing global warming will require a fundamental transformation of our energy economy, a task that cannot be outsourced to other countries.

“Requiring California’s largest polluters to reduce their own emissions will spur technological advances that can be exported to the rest of the world, bringing green jobs to the Golden State. If polluters are allowed to outsource their emissions reductions to other sectors and jurisdictions, the clean-energy revolution will be delayed,” the club declared … ”

We agree!

* Also from the Times:

Two of Southern California’s busiest general aviation airports were thumped as major lead polluters in a finger pointing exercise that wends all the way to the beginnings of L.A. smog in the 1940s.

“The Center for Environmental Health on Tuesday announced impending legal action against more than 40 suppliers of aviation fuel containing lead, often used in piston-powered aircraft engines, at California airports.

The Oakland-based group blames ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, AvFuel Corp. and 38 other suppliers for water and air pollution around 25 airports in California, including Van Nuys Airport, Long Beach/Daugherty Field and LAX.

“The oil and aviation industries need to know Californians will not tolerate lead pollution that threatens our health and healthy environments,” Michael Green, executive director of CEH, said in a statement. “We expect the industries to take immediate action to eliminate pollution that endangers children and families who live, work and play near airports across the state.”

Van Nuys, which handles a lot of civil aviation using piston-engine aircraft, had the highest levels of lead emissions among 3,413 airports nationwide, according to EPA …”

* We recently wrote about how a Washington was shocked and alarmed during a recent visit to still air-polluted Los Angeles. Well, the good old Northwest has a toxic problem of their own, and their getting out the sealants and protective boots and taking it to the asphalt produced with disease-causing industrial waste in it.  As MSNBC reported:

“Washington state has become the first in the nation to ban toxic asphalt sealants made from cancer-causing industrial waste that have been spread over vast swaths of the nation’s cities and suburbs.

The toxic ingredients in coal tar-based sealants are turning up in ordinary house dust as well as in streams, lakes and other waterways at levels that concern government researchers. The chemicals have been found in driveways at concentrations that could require treatment by moon-suited environmental technicians if detected at similar levels at a toxic-waste cleanup site. The sealants are also applied on playgrounds and parking lots …”

One way or another, either directly or tangentially, all these issues are explosed in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

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 …”

 

May greenery … get it while it’s brown

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

* England, afflicted with air pollution problems since Shakespeare’s time and the country that suffered the deadliest “killer smog” in world history, has made great strides towards blue sky. But the problem is hardly licked there or other highly industrialized cities across Europe. The pictures don’t die and coughing lungs don’t act. Check out this photo spread from the Daily Mail of icky haze in different British cities intermixed with portraits of chyrsallis blue sky when the smog chemicals had taken the day off.

* Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court kepts its provincial, law-book mitts out of environmental regulation, turning back Republican efforts to strip the Obama Administration’s EPA from policing greenhouse gases. What part about global warming and carbon chemicals, we’re eager to know, are unrelated to the EPA’s fundamental charge to protect U.S. citizens and its air, land and sea from ecological damage? Oh, yeah. The political component. Silly us. Here’s how the old, gray lady, the New York Times, viewed the failed wing-clipping effort in a table-setter.

“The case about global warming scheduled to be argued on Tuesday before the Supreme Court is a blockbuster. Eight states — from California to New York, plus New York City — sued six corporations responsible for one-fourth of the American electric power industry’s emissions of carbon dioxide. Rather than seeking money or punishment for the defendants, they seek what everyone should agree is the polluters’ responsibility: abatement of their huge, harmful part in causing climate change. The purpose is not to solve global warming or usurp the government’s role in doing so. It is, rightly, to get major utilities to curb their greenhouse-gas emissions before the government acts. Because there is no federal regulation of this problem in force, it is fortunate that there is a line of Supreme Court precedents back to 1901 on which the plaintiffs can build their challenge. When this lawsuit began seven years ago, one of the defendants’ main defenses was that, because the Clean Air Act and other laws “address” carbon dioxide emissions, Congress has “legislated on the subject” and pre-empted the suit. The pre-emption claim was spurious when they made it and remains spurious now …”

* The L.A. Times reviews the book “Here on Earth,” a narrative that isn’t the gloomy, let’s-just-get-drunk-while-the-climate-does-us-in eulogy one might have suspected for the global warming age.  

“Earth could use a biograghy. Tim Flannery has delivered a provocative one in time for Earth Day. Despite the rising level of greenhouse gases warming the Blue Planet and the failure to unite governments behind efforts to arrest the trend, Flannery is optimistic for Earth’s future and that of its most destructive inhabitants: you and me. That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to fall into a funk while reading “Here on Earth,” the latest work from one of the planet’s great field zoologists and thinkers. Flannery doesn’t bury the hard facts of climate change. But unlike those who believe the human race has evolved into a species incapable of the long-term thought and unity that can save it from overconsumption, Flannery falls in with those who still believe we can save ourselves, in part by retooling our thinking of evolution itself. ‘We have trod the face of the Moon, touched the nethermost pit of the sea, and can link minds instantaneously across vast distances. But for all that, it’s not so much our technology, but what we believe that will determine our fate,’ Flannery proclaims in his ‘dual biography’ of the planet and mankind. ‘Today, many think that our civilization is doomed to collapse,’ he writes. ‘Such fatalism is misplaced. It derives in large part from a misreading of Darwin, and a misunderstanding of our evolved selves. Either such ideas will survive or we will.’

Talking about the survival, what about endurance of famously smogged out respiratory tracts? To learn more, read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.