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Not Gone With the Wind

Posted by Rick · September 24th, 2003 · 1 Comment

This is something which has always puzzled me.

Today’s air quality forecast for Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties and parts of Kern County is for unhealthy air to continue, meaning students can expect to be kept under shade trees at recess and after-school sports practices could be canceled or delayed. – “Choking Off Recess,” The Fresno Bee, September 24, 2003.

I don’t have children myself and don’t plan to ever have any. The part that has puzzled me is that there are people who do have children, yet when I discuss the need to actually do something about pollution, I’m accused of being some kind of leftist nut. As bad as air quality is for me and my wife, it’s going to be much worse for your children. This is true even if we finally begin to fix things.

Research shows that breathing ozone, a corrosive gas, can cause shortness of breath and trigger asthma attacks in the short term. And long-term exposure—even at levels below a health alert—may cause lung scarring, birth defects and other chronic health problems.Ibid.

In spite of this,

The Bush administration…exempted thousands of older power plants, refineries and factories from having to install costly clean air controls when they modernize with new equipment that improves efficiency but increases pollution. – “Bush administration revises air pollution rules,” CNN.com, August 27, 2003.

These sources of pollution, along with automobile exhaust, are the major causes of pollution in our world. They produce ozone, fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. Would it surprise you to know that none of these things are good for you?

Smokestacks

While there may be an ozone hole over the south pole (where its absence increases health concerns for our planet), one of the things ozone itself does best is create holes in your lungs. It is corrosive, attacking plant and animal tissues. No matter how nice a person you are, you’re still an animal. And even if you’re a couch potato or are just dumb as a cucumber, you aren’t safe, since it also attacks plant tissues. Since it’s a gas, it’s easily inhaled. As you might imagine, lung tissue is somewhat more sensitive than skin, so ozone wreaks havoc even on healthy tissue. Ultimately, it reduces lung capacity. Children and athletes are significantly impacted; the former are developing and fragile, while the latter are doing a lot of deep breathing, sucking in those corrosive gases.

Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide are, also, both corrosive. In fact, nitrogen dioxide is a highly reactive gas, which forms nitric acid. Yes, ACID. But we all—that includes you—breathe it in increasing quantities as it is spewed from companies that don’t install the equipment to prevent its release into the atmosphere.

These same sources—including, but not limited to, power plants, industrial plants, automobiles and even barbeques—produce fine particular matter. “Fine,” of course, has a different meaning here than when we talk about Bush’s “fine” performance on environmental issues. Fine particulate matter is especially dangerous because it can be deeply inhaled, not unlike a gas. However, fine particulate matter is not EXhaled. It sits in your lungs like so much crap, reacting with your tissues with deleterious effect on your health.

It’s not as if air pollution is a minor problem, either, limited to such areas as California’s San Joaquin Valley or Los Angeles. The not-so-nice thing about air pollution is that you can see (click links in this sentence to see pictures) it in such places as The Grand Canyon to China to Paris to South Africa to Santiago (Chile) to Alaska. In fact, air pollution is even visible from outer space to the naked eye and to specially-calibrated instruments which give a clearer understanding to scientists.

The quality of life throughout the world is impacted.

The ironic thing about this is that—as they used to say before each episode of The Six Million Dollar Man—”we have the technology.” We have the capability to make the world’s air breathable. The problem is that we continue to either deny the problem exists at all (how sane people can believe this is beyond me) or that it isn’t as bad as everyone says.

Nowhere is this denial more evident than with the Bush Administration. Consider the following:

  • The US says it has no plans to remove the debris left over from depleted uranium (DU) weapons it is using in Iraq. (Because there’s no health risk to breathing radioactive dust—no, really, that’s what they said!)
  • Bush Administration weakens protections from dangerous soot, smog, toxic mercury and repeals existing safeguards for local air quality and for controlling smog in national parks.
  • In 2002, Bush proposed exemptions to the New Source Review for the Clean Air Act which would dramatically increase nitrogen oxide emissions.
  • The New York Attorney General filed suit against the Bush Administration for “putting the financial interests of the oil, gas and coal companies above the public’s right to breathe clean air” and “exempting half of air pollution sources from key clean air rules.” (See also here.)
  • The Bush Administration proposed a “Clear Skies Act of 2003” which “saves power plant owners $3.5 billion per year in pollution control costs but imposes at least $61 billion per year in additional avoidable health costs on the American people.”

  • Last year, 11 (count ’em, eleven) state attorneys general “called for the Bush administration to rethink its response to climate change and enact a cap on greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.” (See also here.)
  • The Miami Herald reports that Bush has made at least 50 major policy changes (including weakening air pollution controls that have existed since the 1960s), often without you, the American public, even noticing.

And then, of course, there was the refusal to be a part of the Kyoto Protocol intended to limit greenhouse emissions which even had religious leaders (christian and jewish) angry with Bush.

Hopefully, assuming you’ve read this far, you begin to understand that there are some significant issues involved here. Yet, surprisingly—as is the case with the erosion of civil rights, the economy and the massive budget deficits directly resulting from our transformation to a police state and international bully—you, the people, who actually are the United States of America sit, passive as couch potatoes, doing nothing. And, as I said above, these problems, as bad as they are for us, are going to be worse for your children and your grandchildren. Yet I drive a scooter most of the year specifically because it gets 60 miles to the gallon and pollutes less. My wife and I deliberately don’t use our air conditioning unless our skin is literally melting off our bodies (about one to three nights so far this summer; and we look ugly enough without melted skin running down our bodies—well, I do). And I talk to people, including congresspeople, telling them my concerns for the environment and trying to get them to push towards solutions to this problem.

I remember moving briefly to California in 1966 (my family returned here later to stay). My father was in the Navy and we lived in housing at N.A.S. Lemoore. N.A.S. Lemoore is close to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. It’s a little south of Fresno and nearly straight across from Visalia, which sits up against the mountains on the eastern side of the San Joaquin Valley. I remember thinking how beautiful it was to look at the mountains—east of Visalia! Today, I live in Clovis, which is attached to Fresno at the hip. (Actually, we’re more of a beauty mark growing on the side of Fresno’s much-and-unfairly-maligned face.) From my house, I could probably scoot into the foothills in about 5 or 10—and surely not more than 15, depending on what the meaning of “into” is—minutes. But there are some days at my house when those foothills appear somewhat indistinct through a thick haze. I shudder to think how bad things have become in less than 40 years.

Those of you who have children and grandchildren should be concerned about this. Can you imagine what things would be like if the rate of pollution merely continues at the same pace? And, yet, our President is working overtime, removing the brakes on pollution unnoticed and nearly unchallenged.

Frequently people in this neck of the woods are heard hoping for a good stiff wind to blow the pollution away. But this air, thick with pollution, is not going to be gone with the wind. It is the wind.

As I said, I have no children. And I don’t like being lumped in with leftist nuts. I’m tired of arguing with people who have more of a stake in the future of this planet than I do.

Sometimes I just feel like saying, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 harry // Sep 24, 2003 at 2:05 pm

    It is not surprising that the present government is removing barriers to pollution, after all, money not spent on cleaning the air can be donated in campaign contributions.

    Air quality is always going to be worse where people are crammed together. That means ghettos, suburbs, the industrial and heavy retail areas—places where the rich – sorry, “wealthy” is the politically correct term, rarely go and never live.

    The wealthy can afford to live where the air is cleaner in comparison. But as population grows, there is more encroachment on the rural areas, not just from people but form the pollution people create. So how do the wealthy ensure that the poisons pumped into the air end up in concentrated areas, for away from their green and pleasant ranches? Enter “Smart Growth” – a wonderful new system of community design where everyone will live happily side by side, walking to the shops and taking pubic (was that a typo? I am not so sure) transport everywhere else.

    The big multinational corporations now own a large part of the fresh drinking water supplies around the world. Water supplies not in private hands are routinely poisoned by, surprise, surprise, the business practices of the same corporations, be it logging, strip mining, industrialization or modern farming methods. When the freely available water is no longer drinkable, then people have to pay for it.

    Why should clean air be seen as any less of a commodity? Make it scarce and people will pay good money for it. Of course, only the poor, crammed into the cities, will need to pay for it. Like taxes, the wealthy will by above such considerations.

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