Archive for November, 2008

For many urban cities, there’s smog of one sort or the other in the trophosphere. For much the planet, there’s accumulating greenhouse gases warming in the upper atmosphere. Now there’s something new and alarming occurring in the Far East in between in a light-killing, resource-imperiling phenomeon.

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Call them “Brown clouds” for now. They are a cousin of global aminal, producing many of the same life-changing crisies from undiluted emissions of modern life. Carbon soot, manmade particles and a brew of chemicals kicked up from the burning of fossil fuels, wood and plants in this regional haze over Asia are threatening food supplies, public health, and are contributing to glacial melting. Just as alarming for the millions living under the brown clouds, light has been dramatically cut.

From the MSNBC story (link):
The huge plumes have darkened 13 megacities in Asia — including Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Cairo, Mumbai and New Delhi — sharply “dimming” the amount of light by as much as 25 percent in some places … Imagine for a moment a 3-kilometer-thick band of soot, particles, a cocktail of chemicals that stretches from the Arabic Peninsula to Asia,” said Achim Steiner, U.N. undersecretary general and executive director of the U.N. environment program. “All of this points to an even greater and urgent need to look at emissions across the planet because this is where the stories are linked in terms of greenhouse emissions and particle emissions and the impact that they’re having on our global climate,” he said. “

Sometimes you pick the crisis to fix. Sometimes it picks you. Might, out of all this worldwide financial turmoil, come a new covenant to eliminate gas-powered cars and dirty factories sooner than later because of the mounting damage they’re causing? Global warming is no myth. It’s the severity of it that’s being debated. What, then, to make of millions of people living in shadowy heat?

A little video on the subject from Scripps: link

Wonder what it was like to live in L.A.’s smoggy past?

Monday, November 17th, 2008

The recent brushfires that devastated sections of Montecito, Sylmar and the point at which L.A., Orange and Riverside Counties merge give someone not alive back then a taste of how one’s everyday routine was influenced by nauseating air pollution. The health warnings are pretty familiar. Stay indoors. Avoid strenous outside exertion if you can’t be home-bound. Wear a mask if need be. Doctors treating asthmatics and people with other respiratory illnesses were up to their stethosccopes in work and worry. Though the medical knowledge and today’s digitally run instant communications certainly give us a edge over smog-alert days, the premise is the same. Inhaling air chalked with particulates, soot, metals and so forth imperils your respiratory and immune system, just as it did inhaling hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide and other smog chemicals.

From a recent Daily News of Los Angeles story:

” Smog officials warned residents today to avoid unhealthy ash and smoke from Southland wildfires by staying inside. Meanwhile, Los Angeles school officials were pondering whether to close some campuses in the San Fernando Valley because of swirling soot and the haze of smoke. “Obviously, if you can see falling ash, the air quality is pretty poor,” said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “Everyone should remain indoors.” The AQMD warned that air quality will remain unhealthful in Orange and Los Angeles counties through Monday because of ongoing wildfires stoked by Santa Ana winds. In areas affected by the fires, the agency urged everyone to avoid vigorous outdoor and indoor exertion. People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and young children should remain indoors, Atwood said, and people in smoke-impacted areas should keep their windows and doors closed with the air conditioning on …”

Courtesy of Southern California’s inversion-layer past, anybody with a Web browser can retrieve instant air quality conditions and forecasts. Here’s the link to the AQMD air quality monitoring site. If only they had it back when L.A. really was Smogtown. We cover this subject about warning and health and all the messy implications in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

“Exhaust Gripe” – Bookforum’s SMOGTOWN review

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

“… a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it … describes a decidedly dreary Los Angeles: Patio furniture fades, flowers die, and a man’s coral-colored tie turns bluish-purple over the course of an afternoon–all due to the smog that rolled into the city quite unannounced one morning in 1943. “The blocked skies,” write Jacobs and Kelly, “were tantamount to acne on a beauty queen.”… The smogmen were charged with the daunting task of mediating between the public and private sectors and one another, all while dealing with angry citizens who threatened to “[come] down there after you with a hatchet.” … the authors toss in a dose of gallows humor and a light brushing of melodrama. The smog is personified as a “beast you couldn’t stab . . . cunning and silent,” with scientists “jousting” to defeat it. Such instances remind one of the voice-over from Dragnet, and it’s hard not to laugh when imagining Joe Friday intoning, “Deep within Disneyland in Anaheim, California, stands Tomorrowland.” But the point of Smogtown is well made: that the truth really is inconvenient. Nearly fifty years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, we are coming to know the cost of environmental stewardship in blood, sweat, and dollars. The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables … ” – BOOKFORUM

Link to full review: here

$28 billion a year in smog-related health costs … just in California

Thursday, November 13th, 2008
Downtown Los Angeles in 2006 - the beast remains

Downtown Los Angeles in 2006 - the beast remains

Think about, if you dare, what the enormous pricetag would add be if we toted up WORLDWIDE costs. Trillions perhaps? As this latest study from Cal State Fullerton shows, air pollution is deadly for people and other living organisms, and is seriously toxic for the publicly funded healthcare, government budgets and the average taxpayer. Roughly 3,000 premature deaths a year are attributed to exposure – more than war and gang violence, let alone car accidents; we suspect this number is conservative .Of course, this complex point is a focal point of our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. In it, we discover officials were onto this massive expense and its trickle-down effects as far back as the late 1950s. While ozone and other smog-forming chemicals are way down from our choking past, they have proven more lethal than originally believed and have fanned out far and wide from just your typical industrial city. In Central California, the misey is astounding.

Here’s two stories well worth reading: Los Angeles Times (about this latest health cost study) and from Discovery via MSNBCabout pollution-induced tornadoes. (We’ll be writing more about subjects like this in the future.) For now, just remember that smog history is far from written.

From the Times piece: The California economy loses about $28 billion annually due to premature deaths and illnesses linked to ozone and particulates spewed from hundreds of locations in the South Coast and San Joaquin air basins, according to findings released Wednesday by a Cal State Fullerton research team.

Most of those costs, about $25 billion, are connected to roughly 3,000 smog-related deaths each year, but additional factors include work and school absences, emergency room visits, and asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses, said team leader Jane Hall, a professor of economics and co-director of the university’s Institute for Economics and Environment Studies.

You know what they say about three being a crowd? Might this concept car that literally runs on compressed air and a little grease be a crowd pleaser for the green age? The future is now, and if it’s not quite Blade Runner-ish, it’s the prologue

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

From the Yahoo story: “… The expertise needed to build a compressed air car, or CAV, is not rocket science, either. Years-old, off-the-shelf technology uses compressed air to drive old-fashioned car engine pistons instead of combusting gas or diesel fuel to create a burst of air to do the same thing. Indian carmaker Tata has no qualms about the technology. It has already bought the rights to make the car for the huge Indian market.

The air car can tool along at a top speed of 35 mph for some 60 miles or so on a tank of compressed air, a sufficient distance for 80% of consumers to commute to work and back and complete daily chores.

On highways, the CAV can cruise at interstate speeds for nearly 800 miles with a small motor that compresses outside air to keep the tank filled. The motor isn’t finicky about fuel. It will burn gasoline or diesel as well as biodiesel, ethanol or vegetable oil.

This car leaves the highest-mpg vehicles you can buy right now in the dust. Even if it used only regular gasoline, the air car would average 106 mpg, more than double today’s fuel sipping champ, the Toyota Prius. The air tank also can be refilled when it’s not in use by being plugged into a wall socket and recharged with electricity as the motor compresses air …”

For those interested in a little video, check out this BBC segment about a similar concept car.

Maybe world governments need to start encouraging its citizenry with a renewed effort to buy different types of cars dictated by the type of environment in which they’d run. People living in chronically smoggy lands like Los Angeles should have incentives to purchase ultra-low- or zero-emission models. We already have that in California, where solo-driven hybrids are allowed in carpool lanes and owners receive available tax refunds. Expanding on that idea, clean-running cars like the one above are ideal for short-range city driving. Longer trips and bigger loads could be handled by more traditional automobiles, provided they meet ever-tightening standards for the good old internal combustion engine.

How America got so far behind the curve on all this is a subject we take up in Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. Read it and weep (at opportunity lost). Read it again and get motivated.

If Barrack Obama wins the presidency, as most pundits expect, here’s a taste of his environmental policy. The question for us here is what Los Angeles’ early smog generals would’ve said about it.

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Keep in mind the parallels between global warming and urban air pollution. Having dug into the past like a pair of historical gophers, we have our thoughts about what our battered environmental-forefathers might’ve felt, and it’s easy to enunciate: IT’S ABOUT TIME! Curious to know what they experienced back in the 1950s and 1960s, when environmental policy generally meant telling a factory to throw a trap over its smokestack? Read Smogtown, the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. There’s politics aplenty in it.

Stand-up guy that he is, John McCain never really grasped or explained how a decaying planet — where the polar ice caps melt, toxic rivers poison thousands, species important to the food chain die out, and air pollution strangles people’ pursuit of easy breathing — affected the average voter, let alone Joe the Plumber.

With Obama poised to take the White House, could America really be entering a honest green revolution short on partisan foodfighting and lobbyist influence and high on common sense? What would Thomas Jefferson want? What would Dwight Eisenhower? If you don’t vote, your answer doesn’t mean much, does it?

Great L.A. Times review of SMOGTOWN — “… style delivers substance in true Hollywood fashion, with character-driven plots draped in glamour and sensation. Whether we learn about photochemical pollution via a renegade Caltech scientist or travel with a group of Beverly Hills socialites as they embrace environmental activism, the history of smog has never been so sexy …”

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

From the Chris Daley’s November 2 critique:

“A panorama of the Los Angeles skyline used to often resemble a poorly developed roll of film, cut through the middle with a view-obscuring brown smudge. Welcome to “Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles,” in which Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly demonstrate that our current air quality is a free-breathing dream compared to the nightmare that enveloped the city for a good portion of the last century. The authors trace smog’s invasion back to a gray day in 1943 when visibility was so low that Angelenos — fearing chemical attack — rushed from their jobs and crashed their cars in the haze. Thus began a series of epic battles in the fight against air pollution: urban growth vs. nature, weather vs. industry, home rule vs. federal regulation, and the automobile vs. the health of the citizenry … “Smogtown” is a regional history for the layperson, focusing slightly more on civic drama and scandal than hard science and legislative details. The cover promises “A Cautionary Tale of Environmental Crisis,” and the archival photos show “smog suits” for sale on downtown streets and children clutching dolls in their own miniature gas masks. Jacobs and Kelly bring a combination of alt-weekly sensibility and public service gravitas to their account. Evidenced by chapter titles like “Bouffants & Stethoscopes” and “The Wizard of Ozone,” the authors apply humor to a grave subject, though entertaining thematic organization sometimes trumps clear chronology. However, the book is not lacking in historical heft. Instead, style delivers substance in true Hollywood fashion, with character-driven plots draped in glamour and sensation. Whether we learn about photochemical pollution via a renegade Caltech scientist or travel with a group of Beverly Hills socialites as they embrace environmental activism, the history of smog has never been so sexy …”

Link to full review: here