Though an intensifying global bad-air problem, not all doom and gloom, World Bank report shows

The World Bank with assistance from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle, last year, released its The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action study.

As to the seriousness of the air-pollution problem, The World Bank shared some sobering thoughts.

“Air pollution is recognized today as a major health risk. Exposure to air pollution, both ambient and household, increases a person’s risk of contracting a disease such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and chronic bronchitis. According to the latest available estimates, in 2013, 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide, or 1 in every 10 total deaths, were attributable to air pollution. Air pollution has posed a significant health risk since the early 1990s, the earliest period for which global estimates of exposure and health effects are available.”1

Worldwide, air pollution is the fourth leading risk factor of premature death in 2013, as was also true in 1990 (with 4.8 million air-pollution attributable early deaths), according to The World Bank.2

Air pollution, according to The World Bank definition, includes household air pollution, ambient fine-particulate matter (PM 2.5) and ambient ozone.3

PM 2.5’s impacts

Fine-particulate-matter pollution (PM 2.5 – particles the size of no more than about a thirtieth the width or diameter of the average human hair – less than 2.5 micrometers across) is globally health-impacting. It is prevalent in the air in places like Chatham/Kent, Ontario, Canada; Tasmania in New Zealand; Delhi in India; Beijing, China; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Bakersfield, California in the United States; Mexico City in Mexico and on and on the list goes. PM 2.5 can be found anywhere combustion occurs where the fuel burned, whether petroleum, coal, peat, wood, oil and various other fuels – fossil or otherwise, doesn’t completely burn (burns at less than 100 percent efficiency, in other words). When these particles are breathed in they can lodge deep in the lungs or enter the bloodstream and are known to lead or contribute to a number of diseases including ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory system disease, stroke, pneumonia, lung cancer and premature death.

And, as far as the problem goes, it is a mixed bag.

Consider this:

Ambient PM 2.5 pollution was responsible for 2,928,000 global deaths in 2013, The World Bank found, which compares with 2,238,000 deaths in 1990.4

When looking at the number of deaths per 100,000 people for those same two years, in 2013, the number is 239, whereas in 1990, the number of deaths per 100,000 people is 272.5

With regard to deaths per one-hundred-thousand people, the world’s PM 2.5 pollution problem has improved somewhat, and that’s encouraging.

Giving soot the boot: Further signs of encouragement

Cited below: “Box 1.2 Using an Air Quality Management Study and Economic Valuation to Help Ulaanbaatar Forge a Strategy to Combat Air Pollution,” from The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action report.

“Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, is one of the world’s coldest capital cities. In recent years, it has also become known as one of the world’s most polluted cities. Most of the city’s air pollution appears during the winters, when 180,000 or so households living in informal settlements marked by traditional circular tents known as gers burn raw coal in stoves for heating and cooking. As a result, despite having a population of only 1.2 million, Ulaanbaatar has experienced levels of air pollution worse than those in much larger cities such as Beijing and Delhi.

“In 2007 efforts to replace the traditional heating stoves in the ger areas met with resistance from Ulaanbaatar government officials, who were not certain they wanted to prioritize stove removal, particularly given the cost. This led to a full-scale air quality management study, seeking a complete understanding of the sources, concentration levels, and health impacts of pollution and outlining the most cost-effective abatement options for the short, medium, and long term. The study revealed that switching out existing stoves with cleaner-burning, more efficient ones would yield net health benefits of $1.6 billion. The benefits of pursuing other options, such as moving ger households into apartments, would have come later. However, that delay would result in health-related losses of up to $3.5 billion if more immediate action was not taken. Delaying stove replacement by just three years would lead to health-related losses of about $1.0 billion.

“Armed with the results of this analysis, Ulaanbaatar decided to go ahead with the stove replacement program as one of the main pillars of its strategy to reduce air pollution. Since 2010, Ulaanbaatar has replaced nearly 170,000 stoves, reaching more than 90 percent of households in the ger areas. Continued monitoring of PM2.5 has revealed a notable reduction in pollution levels since the baseline study; yearly average concentrations declined from over 250 μg/m3 in 2008-09 to around 80 μg/m3 in 2014-15. Although a longer period of monitoring will be needed to establish definite trends in concentrations, these initial improvements are reason for optimism.”6

Cause for hope? You bet!

Where to look to learn more

For much more on The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action, the joint World Bank, IHME study, go here.

Notes

  1. World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 2016. The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO (“Executive Summary, Introduction,” p. x)
  2. Ibid. This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  3. Ibid (“2. Health Impacts of Air Pollution: Trends in Exposure and Health Impacts from Ambient and Household Air Pollution, Total Health Impacts of Air Pollution,” p. 22). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  4. Ibid (“Figure 2.5 Total Deaths from Ambient PM2.5 Pollution by Region, 1990 and 2013,” p. 28). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  5. Ibid (“Figure 2.8 Deaths per 100,000 People from Ambient PM2.5 Pollution by Region, 1990 and 2013,” p. 30). This translation was not created by The World Bank and should not be considered an official World Bank translation. The World Bank shall not be liable for any content or error in this translation.
  6. World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 2016. The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the Economic Case for Action. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO (“Introduction, The Focus of This Report, Box. 1.2 Using an Air Quality Management Study and Economic Valuation to Help Ulaanbaatar Forge a Strategy to Combat Air Pollution,” p. 6

Now arriving: 40 new low-emissions locos for commuter-rail system

There’s a new train on the block, engine, actually, and it’s clean as well as lean.

The locomotive? A Progress Rail Services product; an EMD F125 diesel, which was first introduced in Los Angeles, California on Jul. 18, 2016.

What makes this model unique is that this first-of-its-kind diesel locomotive is designed to meet stringent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier 4 air emissions requirements and it is geared for higher-speed operation. So, for this diesel, intended for rail passenger service, it is as much about its ability to run at faster speeds as it is about its air-friendliness quality coupled with better performance fuel-efficiency-wise.

As described in the company’s Jul. 18, 2016 “Progress Rail Unveils First EMD F125 Passenger Locomotive” press release, Progress Rail Services announced: “Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company, has released its first EMD F125 passenger locomotive, produced at its Muncie, Indiana facility, to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority’s (SCRRA) commuter rail line, Metrolink.”

This was previously written about in the Air Quality Matters post: “Rail authority procures 20 low-emissions locos with a 2015-’16 delivery schedule.”

The Sept. 3, 2015 post opened as follows: “The 512-mile Metrolink system providing passenger-rail services in several southern California counties – Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura – has embarked on a program to upgrade and modernize its fleet of motive power by acquiring locomotives built to Tier 4 standards – the highest operating standards for diesel locomotives as it relates to prime mover (engine) performance in general, and in regard to emissions control and fuel efficiency, specifically.”

“Furthermore, noted Progress Rail Services Corporation, ‘[t]he F125 includes an SCR-only after-treatment system to meet U.S. EPA Tier 4 emissions standards. Equipped with an electronic fuel injection system, a Cat® C175 series diesel engine provides exceptional train acceleration advantages, compared to other less powerful locomotive products or older technologies, while maintaining Tier 4 emissions performance.’ EMD is an acronym for Electro-Motive Diesel while SCR stands for Selective Catalytic Reduction,” as further explained in the “Rail authority procures 20 low-emissions locos with a 2015-’16 delivery schedule,” post.

Now, updated information released provides new details.

“The new diesel-electric locomotive, which meets U.S. EPA Tier 4 standards, is the first of 40 125 mph passenger locomotives to be sold to Metrolink and delivered in the world,” Progress Rail Services in the Jul. 18, 2016 press release stated. Nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions in these new locomotives will be reduced by as much as 85 percent, that is, compared to the aging fleet of Metrolink railway engines these new models are to replace. Engine reliability is said to also be improved, according to Progress Rail Services in the same release.

“Funding has been provided through the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) Carl Moyer Program and the State of California’s Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP). The remaining budget will be accounted for through a combination of Metrolink member agency contributions and other subsidies,” Progress Rail Services related.

These engines are rated at 4,700 horsepower each.

More information can be found here and here.

Making a clean sweep: Up the chimney, down the street

In my home, there’s a fireplace. From the backyard, visible is a chimney (if you want to call it that). A vertical pipe would be more like it (galvanized steel, I think) projecting up out of the house’s back portion. Its purpose is to exhaust fireplace discharge, but, I’m having none of that – literally.

You see, since the time I moved into the home in 1996, not once has what would ordinarily be a particulate matter source ever been used and for good reason. Not only could it very well have had something to do with the gas insert that occupies the fireplace pit area with replica logs and all having not worked since day 1, that’s it exactly.

And, only on one occasion did I contact a local utility company representative to have such come out and take a look to try to assess the problem in the hopes of finding a fix. Baffled, the representative was. That was that and so the device has been relegated to non-use since.

I suppose I could’ve contacted a bona fide repair person that specializes in this sort of thing, but you can see how far that went too. So, the fireplace – gas insert or not – goes unused.

Now I can’t say the same for my neighbors’ fireplaces.

At times, around the holiday season especially, many are, if you’ll pardon the expression, fired up. And, I mean, big time. There is quite the concentration of the smell of burning wood wafting in the air around my home. If you were to hazard (funny, I can’t think of a more appropriate word to use here) a guess, you would not be wrong to conclude that upon getting a whiff, it would be a case of my darting back inside to an environment with far less tainted air, and shutting the door behind.

With all of that fireplace burning activity, you have to wonder what the inside surfaces of the chimneys must look like. Surely there is all of this black-colored crud stuck if not caked on. You have to wonder also how many residents burning wood in home fireplaces actually make the effort to have their chimneys swept. That’s right. Swept!

Of course, there are those who are in the chimney-sweeping business. But, honestly, I don’t recall ever seeing any vehicles of commercial enterprises doing this sort of work anywhere in town – ever – which tells me that not many are having this type of work done. Then again, not only could I be, but I hope I’m wrong.

For scrubbed, excuse me, swept and non-swept chimneys alike, for those that are used, from these, there is inevitably a certain amount of pollutant-emissions releases all as a result of the incomplete combustion of wood (and who knows what ever else is burned in fireplaces these days) that exit the chimneys, and, if you’ve ever wondered where that microscopic debris ends up, well, I, for one, have, and it’s enough to turn my stomach just thinking about it.

The air, on the ground, in the water, on plants and various outdoor surfaces, inside other people’s residences and in other buildings – habitats for living, working, etc., and anywhere else these specks can and do travel to and enter including noses, mouths, lungs, bloodstreams, you name it. Nothing is off limits, or so it would seem. And, to think, the whole nasty scene could be completely avoided.

And speaking of scenes, now for Scene II: Street sweeping. You’ll have to pardon, but this one I really don’t get, nor do I care to, if you understand my meaning.

In my neighborhood, the vehicle for sweeping streets makes its rounds on, of all days, the one before the home trash, recyclable and yard waste is picked up and dumped from the representative containers at curbside. But, why the day preceding and not the day following has me scratching my head in wonderment. A conundrum, I tell you! Come on, are these mobile devices really necessary or are they more fluff than stuff?

Well, I hate to admit it, but the street-sweeping machines really do make the street where the spinning street-sweeper brushes touch, well, spic-and-span. As for what this process does to the air, I’m leery. For those who have paid notice, there is that characteristic smell left behind in the sweeper’s wake. It’s akin to the presence of precipitation in the form of rain falling after a dry spell and the dirt and dust built up on various outside surfaces gets kicked up in the air as a result of the falling rain. And, inhaling said airborne dirt, dust and particles, can’t be healthy.

Even in the little sweeping that I do during times of my being engaged in yardwork chores, there is a considerable amount of dust that likewise gets disturbed. When I do this, I try as best I can to position myself upwind of this activity just to stay out of the way of airborne dust. Given prevailing and changing air currents, it’s all I can do to avoid getting a good dusting myself. But, alas, I try.

So, I must ask: Street sweepers, chimney sweeps: A clean sweep or much to be desired here?

In the case of the latter, I’m thinking for those who frequently use their fireplaces to burn wood, I am wondering if a thorough chimney sweeping isn’t from time to time a good habit to get into from the standpoint of limiting inside-the-chimney soot buildup.

As it pertains to sweeping streets, I’m conflicted. What may improve street appearance may be bad for air and, by extension, public health by those exposed to such. Or, maybe, I’m just making much ado about nothing, a mountain out of molehill, if you will, instead of my focusing my writing efforts on more important air quality matters. Like I said, conflicted.

Or, the whole thing could be scratched and instead put this way: Being that I have my way, I’ll keep my fireplace non-functional. And, as it has to do with near encounters of the street-sweeping type, even if it means staying inside and observing from afar behind closed windows and doors, then that suits me just fine.

More power to ya: More renewable energy on the way to more people

With energy demand in the U.S. expected to increase 22 percent by 2040, according to information presented on the PBS NewsHour (via a factoid displayed during the Jan. 4, 2017 broadcast), having enough electricity to meet America’s growing energy needs, needs to be assured.

It’s a pretty good bet that more and more of this energy will be generated from renewable sources.

To support this, in the Dec. 5, 2016 Natural Resources Defense Council press release: “NRDC Annual Energy Report: The U.S. ‘Clean Energy Revolution’ Is Making Historic Gains and Will Not Be Reversed,” the NRDC announced: “America’s transition to a clean energy economy is irrevocably underway and delivering deep pollution reductions, with coal use at record lows but renewable energy higher than ever, according to the Fourth Annual Energy Report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). One sign of how far things have advanced: more than one-fifth of the U.S. population lives in a state with a goal of at least 50 percent renewable energy.”

“As the NRDC report shows, smarter energy use in our homes, buildings, and appliances reduces the need for dirty fuels and allows utilities to avoid building polluting power plants, lowering customer bills and emissions levels.”

“… Primarily as a result of historically low coal use, energy efficiency gains, and soaring generation from solar and wind, 2015 marked a milestone in modern U.S. history: carbon dioxide emissions from electric generation dropped below those of the entire transportation sector for half of the year,” the NRDC in the release proclaimed.

Accelerating into a Clean Energy Future is the title of the Natural Resources Defense Council report. There is more on this and other NRDC reports here.

Meanwhile, in this same area, a second milestone in as many weeks was reached but a week later.

As so detailed in the “First U.S. Offshore Wind Project Goes Online” press release of Dec. 12th, the international nonprofit environmental organization declared: “The nation’s first offshore wind project, located in Rhode Island in waters off Block Island, began generating electricity today, officially launching a clean energy technology that has the potential to power millions of U.S. homes and businesses while further bolstering America’s domestic wind energy industry,” the NRDC further relating that in development located offshore are at least 10 more wind power projects; existing is the potential for 86 gigawatts of power capacity by mid-century, that is, with the right policies in place, estimates the U.S. Department of Energy. That 86 gigawatts of power generation, according to information in that Dec. 12, 2016 release, is enough of an electricity supply to power 31 million homes in the year 2050. “… [T]he rapidly advancing onshore wind industry provided almost 5 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2015,” the NRDC continued.

By 2021, courtesy of federal tax credit extensions and additional policies, wind capacity onshore is expected to increase 70 percent, the NRDC in that very same release added.

Supplying power from the wind (a renewable energy resource) to help meet U.S. demand.

Air of discontent: An 878-word opinion piece for the record books

Everyone’s entitled to have an opinion. Heaven knows, I have my own – on many issues. However, there is a huge difference between informed opinion and just the spouting off at the mouth type sans having any substance to back up what one opines on.

One of my all-time favorites has to do with the building of the high-speed rail system in the state of California. At least one dairy farmer in a news report had expressed that the high-speed train line, a part of which would be built across family owned property that, when open for service, would be so terrorizing to the dairy cows, that they wouldn’t be able to give milk. I would really like to know what batch of scientific evidence this conclusion was based on. Please, if you know, enlighten me.

All in how we interpret what we hear, read

For those not familiar, California’s is America’s first bullet train project to be voter-approved and publicly funded. Los Angeles and San Francisco are planned to be high-speed-railroad linked through the San Joaquin Valley (Phase I of the project) with future connection to Sacramento and San Diego (Phase II of the project), a system that is due to be 800 miles in length at full build-out.

Now there are those detractors who surmise that nothing beyond what is currently being constructed in the San Joaquin Valley connecting Madera with Wasco in the central and southern portions, respectively, will come to fruition if, for no other reason, than the belief the funds needed to finish the job, as it were, will not come forth. Question: Did such a situation ever stop the beginning of the construction on a highway when it was known at the time said construction started, that the money or monies to fund the completion wasn’t or weren’t fully in hand? I am hard-pressed to come up with an instance. But, oh, how many times I have heard the clarion call that the high-speed rail project should be sidelined due to the lack of availability of all of the funds upfront to completely cover the cost of construction. Let me count the number.

By that logic, no one should be allowed to finance the purchase of a car or home, due to, as it were, there being a lack of all funds on hand during time of signing. Ya think that’s why a concept known as “loans” was created? Or, is it that maybe, just maybe, there is this overarching paranoia among detractors about the risk in forging ahead on such a massive undertaking? Perhaps just like the misplaced fear of the aforementioned dairy farmer convinced of his cows being frightened by trains speeding past cow pastures and pens, under such conditions thus preventing said bovines from giving milk. To me, it’s nothing more than hearsay, conjecture and it’s silly. Yet, the conjecture keeps right on coming.

Case in point: In Sunday’s The Fresno Bee, columnist Bill McEwen penned what is titled: “Top 10 stories of the year.” Coming in at number 8 is: “High-speed rail is battered, but lives on.”

In this part, McEwen cites McClatchy’s Sacramento Bee political and commentary writer Dan Walters who opined: “‘All in all … it’s likely that the bullet train as envisioned, linking San Francisco and Sacramento in the north with Los Angeles and San Diego in the south, won’t materialize.’” In my way of thinking, it could just as well have been explained “it is likely that it will.” It is all in how we choose to see things. Would it be wrong to suggest the latter?

Interesting how McEwen sees things. He wrote: “Walters is right. Odds are that Californians won’t get the bullet-train system they voted for in 2008.” And, seemingly in the same breath, The Fresno Bee columnist proceeds to share with the paper’s readers that high-speed rail construction in the Valley continues with dollars in the hundreds of millions yearly being injected into the economy. Does that sound like a prescription for failure and grounds for not continuing to build the line beyond the Valley and through the Tehachapi Mountains and into southern California and across or through Pacheco Pass and into the South San Francisco Bay Area? Not in my book it doesn’t. If anything, sentiment like that kind seems to me to be just the type to inspire confidence. That right there to me is reason to keep moving forward.

The other primary justification is environmental. By 2040, according to projections, 33 million will be riding California bullet trains annually. Key word here: projections. And, they won’t all be Californians riding but a good many will and that means less impact on road and air travel, which, presumably, will result in far fewer greenhouse gas, criteria pollutant and toxic emissions releases. Moreover, the California high-speed rail project is being constructed using equipment that is among the cleanest-burning anywhere. Rare, if at all, that I hear this as it relates to road-building activity.

Opinions are a dime a dozen. Most everyone’s got one. But those that are based on facts – having facts to back them up, in other words – are, in my view, the ones that I see as credible and the people that have these, I have the utmost admiration and respect for.

And, for my money, it doesn’t get any more real than that!

Lower image above: California High-Speed Rail Authority

What future cities could look like: A 21st century perspective

Many large cities today are bloated. Many smaller ones are too.

Before forging ahead farther, it is important at this juncture to be clear on what delineates cities.

One way cities are categorized is according to population size. Large cities: metros with population densities of from 500 thousand-plus to 10 million. Medium cities: metros with population densities of between 100 thousand-plus to 500 thousand. Small cities: metros with population densities of 100 thousand and less. And, then there are the megacities: metros with population densities of greater than 10 mil.

Hollywood, California sprawl 1922

The city of the future from a 21st century perspective is one where the principle of moderation rules all, unlike in numerous cities today where excessiveness is the order of the day. The trick here is to recognize limits so as to keep all aspects of life and living manageable. The flip side, of course, is unpreparedness, bloatedness and unwieldiness. Though sad as it is, fact is, many a city have been or are now on a destructive path. It all gets back to this idea of moderation versus excessiveness – a swim versus sink relationship.

These are some telltale characteristics of poorly managed cities:

  • A faltering or failed economy
  • Air pollution
  • Aging and inefficient infrastructure
  • High poverty rates
  • Poor citizen health
  • Traffic snarling and/or gridlock
  • Unchecked and/or inefficient growth

Adding to this, the Center for Clean Air Policy, from its CCAP Transportation Emissions Guidebook, Part One: Land Use, Transit & Travel Demand Management, emphasizes:

“Patterns of urban growth characteristic of post WWII North American development have created cities and regions that are centered upon and are dependent on the car to meet transportation needs. Located largely at the urban fringe, this pattern of suburban, or greenfield, development is typically dominated by housing-only enclaves consisting of single family homes with two-car garages and a hierarchical road system (with one way in and out). Here, land use functions are isolated (residential, commercial, employment), origins and destinations are farther apart, infrastructure design is oriented toward the automobile, and low population densities are not conducive to public transportation. With the automobile as the only realistic transportation mode for suburbanites in these sprawling communities, commuters are faced with increased driving distances and increased congestion. All told, this pattern of growth has resulted in deteriorating urban air quality and human health, increased emissions of greenhouse gases, limited transportation and housing choice, inefficient use of infrastructure, and communities that are less able to meet the needs of their residents”1

Now, a way in which a city grows can make all the difference in the world.

The plan

So, conventional wisdom suggests that by 2050, when, according to projections, U.S. population will balloon to 400 million people, up from 300 million in late 2006, from between 60 and 80 percent of Americans will be calling cities home. If this pans out, it will go only one of two ways: It’ll be more of the same or the moderation principle will rule the day.

Smart Growth, Emeryville, Calif., style

What we are talking about here is employing responsible building practices and such, starting right now, will doubtless, help existing bloated, unwieldy cities get back on sound footing again and guide growth and development in those up-and-coming , get them at least off on the right foot.

From the CCAP definition outlined above, this is the pattern to avoid, obviously. So, what should cities be striving for instead? To sum up in one word: walkability. The more walkable a city is, the less the negative impacts a city will possess. Good walkability as a metro characteristic, effective it will be at addressing the telltale characteristics of poorly managed cities mentioned previously. The question is how, though.

Good that you asked. In Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, author and city planner Jeff Speck in his book’s aptly named first part “Why Walkability?” in a nutshell explains that it comes down to three constructs: financial well-being, safety and the ability to sustain over the long haul.2

If cities are built upon the foundation of these guiding tenets and remain true to the cause, then there should be none of the excessiveness, unwieldiness in cities alluded to above. Cities epitomizing success: Portland, Oregon; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

With walkability – which can include transit as one component, denser, mixed-use development being another each built around and dependent upon the pedestrian as catalyst and for success, respectively – the aspect of a lower amount of the family or household income dollar will go to transportation or be a transportation-related expense and therefore more can be used on and is available for other purposes.

If anyone has ever visited Vancouver, B.C. or if one hails from there, it is known well for it being one of the most sustainable cities on the planet. Quite interesting is that things there were not always this way. To say that high-rise development there really took off, is understating conditions more than just a bit. And a huge part of that building-development scheme, was the assurance of building-supportive (adjunct) park-space as well as public-transit access.3 To make this all come about and make it all possible, was the sacrifice of highway building.4 High-rises, not highways: an interesting if not smart building philosophy to say the least.

The Vancouver building paradigm is so not like even that of the average American city, even in this, the 21st century’s second decade. Entrenched building ways continue in many jurisdictions. But, such may be easing and as each metro area regroups and adopts building, development, growth strategies that adhere to smart and smarter growth practices, principles and programs, the more likely a Vancouver, B.C. or a Portland, Oregon style of city could crop up and become the city going up next door.

Walkability – now that’s where it’s at!

Notes

  1. Dierkers, Greg, Erin Silsbe, Shayna Stott, Steve Winkelman and Mac Wubben, CCAP Transportation Emissions Guidebook, Part One: Land Use, Transit & Travel Demand Management, Center for Clean Air Policy, Washington, D.C., p. 7
  2. Speck, Jeff, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, “Part 1: Why Walkability?,” 2012, p. 16
  3. Ibid, “Part 1: Why Walkability?, The Wrong Color Green,” 2012, pp. 62, 63
  4. Ibid, p. 62

Personal air-quality activity profile

And now for something just a little different.

There is a tool called the carbon calculator. It is an instrument available to help people determine what their personal or household carbon footprints are. Truth be told, I have never used the device. I am not advocating that people don’t use this. However, for myself, I’ve never found the need.

As a sort of substitute, I have created what I call my personal air-quality activity profile. Basically, by assessing what actions I engage in related to energy consumption, from this, I can get a pretty good idea of how I am doing as a consumer in terms of conservation. It is a crude method of keeping track, but it works for me and this, for me, is what matters.

By activity, I have listed below a number of them acting as kind of a guide for me to know just what I am doing daily routine-wise to help the quality of the air, or what I am not doing that, if I did do, could make the quality of air better – all on a personal level, of course.

Bill paying: I mail all of my bills. I’ve done it this way as long as I’ve been paying bills. On occasion, I have paid bills in person. The moral of the story here is that if I paid my bills electronically, this would no doubt cut down on the need for driving, that is, for mail transport. So, this could be changed. At least one of my bills is forwarded to me electronically every month so, that is one I don’t receive by mail.

Recycling/composting: Much of the paper used to create articles that I write is done on paper already printed on where one side has print on it. Instead of putting these in the recycle bin, I keep these 8.5 in. x 11 in. pieces of paper and use the blank sides to do my article preparatory writing on. It saves me from having to sit at the computer keyboard creating ideas for article use. Once I am satisfied that I have put together an article that is nearly ready for publishing, I then go and transcribe text onto a word processing document and from this, after edits, I can post to the blog.

Not using the computer as much saves electricity and that cuts down on power consumption which, in turn, has a direct effect on air quality. The fact that I am reusing already-printed-on paper, means I’m not wasting additional paper sheets.

Once all text is entered and changed into a digital document if you will, the paper I used to create the articles in question on is placed into the recycle bin, the material destined for recycling instead of it being landfill-bound. By staying out of the landfill, there is less opportunity for methane creation and that helps air. Much, or should I say, most of the paper I discard ends up in the recycle bin, along with most discarded plastic and glass, this in addition to all metal items.

Meanwhile, except for lawn mowing for which I use a cordless electric mower, all yard grooming/maintenance work is done by hand. Most everything yard-waste-wise goes into the green-waste container (tree trunk-stumps excepted), the contents of which will be transported to a site and ultimately turned into compost.

Air conditioning/home heating/water heating/clothes drying: The home’s biggest consumers of electricity typically are the air conditioner, home heater, water heater, clothes dryer, stove/oven combo and refrigerator. Heaters and air conditioners in my house are operated during daytime only when needed. Only very rarely is the home heating system ever on at night. I keep warm wearing several layers of clothing and using multiple blankets for sleeping, once again as a way to scale back energy use. Dual purpose air conditioning/heating filters are changed periodically, usually twice per year.

Hot water heater

During warmer weather periods, all washed clothes are dryer tumbled for but a few minutes only and then removed and hung on clothes racks around the house and get dried via the ambient air inside. The refrigerator, of course, runs day and night. It is the only appliance I own to my knowledge that does this. All other appliances I own are used conservatively, that is only when needed. The television, another relatively high-energy consuming device, on weekdays is seldom used. I much prefer to read or write during this time or if the weather is favorable, with good quality air, I can be found outside either engaged in yard chores or just relaxing and enjoying the weather itself.

Car use: In an average year, I drive no more than a thousand miles. This is a big change from my younger days when I was employed. What this means is, at most, I’m buying 40 gallons of gasoline annually. I’m basing this on my vehicle getting an average 25 miles per gallon. Think of the savings compared to driving 10 times that or 10,000 yearly miles and the fuel required to make that happen. Imagine if everyone did similarly, that is cut their driving to one-tenth of what is typical. Ten times fewer miles driven means 10 times less fuel consumed. A marked difference, for sure!

While I do not expect everyone else to live as conservatively as I, that I live like I do, works well for me. Though it may be simple, my life is comfortable and my needs are met. Saving money and helping the air is always good.

Afterword

Here’s two encouraging news items.

Firstly, on Nov. 8th California voters approved a proposition upholding a ban on plastic bags.

Secondly, our (Fresno’s) season rainfall total as of Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 is 4.08 inches. This compares to a normal season-to-date precipitation total of 2.87 inches of rain. It means we are ahead of the game. The western U.S. has been saddled with somewhat prolonged drought, this being year five going on year six, if I recall correctly. Rain: another way air gets helped. We’ll take it!

Upper image above: Ashley Felton

Largest polluters in Washington state to contest clean-air rules

Conservation, air and energy interests are doing their due diligence to make certain Washington State’s largest carbon-pollution emitters comply with the state’s clean air rules.

“National and regional clean air, clean energy, and conservation groups took legal steps [Dec. 9, 2016] to defend Washington state’s authority to enact the Clean Air Rule that requires reductions in carbon pollution from the area’s largest polluters,” Earthjustice announced in its Dec. 12, 2016 “Clean Air, Clean Energy and Conservation Groups Move to Defend State’s Ability to Cut Carbon Pollution from Washington’s Biggest Polluters: Groups join lawsuit to preserve means to enact new rules aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissionspress release.

“The Department of Ecology standards, finalized in September 2016, limit greenhouse gas emission from major polluters. Industry and utility interests challenged the rule seeking to have the state’s first broadly applicable rule limiting carbon pollution set aside,” the environmental protection organization added.

“Washington has adopted greenhouse gas emission reduction goals to ensure the state does its part to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The Clean Air Rule that is the subject of this litigation establishes greenhouse gas emission standards for the largest contributors to Washington’s emissions, including large industrial and power generation facilities, importers and distributors of transportation fuels, and natural gas distributors,” Earthjustice stated. “The Rule requires these major polluters to gradually reduce their emissions over time, and provides a range of compliance options to give covered entities flexibility in meeting the Rule’s requirements.”

If upheld, the law would go a long ways toward protecting Washingtonians from the damaging effects of related rises in both greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures. Taken together, both a rise in GHGs and global temperatures have the potential to adversely affect the environment, public health and economy of the state.

“A Thurston County [Washington] Superior Court judge will hear oral argument[s] on the legal challenges to the Clean Air Rule on March 31, 2017,” Earthjustice emphasized.

Food for thought: Re polluted air: To 86 is to fix. Get my drift? We can do this!

You’re familiar with the idiom “fish out of water” right? I sometimes wonder if that’s what we’re becoming like. The World Health Organization tells us that 92 percent of the world’s people are breathing polluted air. That’s profound! It’d be so much better if only eight percent did, but even that’s not good. No one should be subjected to the filth in the air that, mostly, it is we who have put there that most of us breathe in.

The question of whether or not we can clean our air – what I have been reading, tells me we can – isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s a question of whether or not we want to or whether pollution in our air is a serious-enough matter to warrant us doing so. Is it?

A natural and unavoidable part of life is waste. When you think about it, a substantial percentage of what winds up in air that doesn’t belong there, is waste – and it has gotten there through the process of burning, ignition.

To heat our living spaces and of the way we cook food or boil water, well, this can involve the burning of one type of fuel or another. The higher the carbon content of fuel that is burned, the more negative the impact is on air and our health, by extension. Not only does the World Health Organization (WHO) tell us what percentage of the population is exposed, WHO gives us year-to-year estimates of the number of people who die early breathing this health-damaging miasma in: The latest figure, an estimated 6.5 million worldwide – 3.5 million from air pollution sourced from indoors and another 3 million from the impacts from that which is sourced from outside. If those numbers grow, what this tells me is our air pollution problem is worsening, not becoming less.

I know the numbers related to the place where I reside. Like the air that I breathe, the picture isn’t pretty. There are somewhere around 800 people annually who lose their fight to hold on to life in California’s San Joaquin Valley. I am told that the reason for this is alone attributable to fine particulate matter lung and bloodstream infiltration. These tiny specks of dirt and debris penetrate lung tissue and pass into blood and can cause a host of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions – everything from heart disease and stroke to cancer of the lung and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease): studies done have confirmed this. Other studies have found a link between polluted air and impaired brain activity and function.

So far, discussion has focused on toxic air emissions; I’ve said nothing of the potential impacts of fossil fuel and other burning, combustion on warming. It is no secret the concentration of carbon dioxide in air is increasing. It has gone from less than 350 parts per million (ppm) CO2 during pre-industrial times (far less, I understand) to 400 ppm today. One thing about CO2 gas is its ability to trap and retain heat. And CO2 isn’t alone. It is joined by at least five more so-called “heat-trapping” elements: Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), perfluorocarbons (PFC), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), these six more commonly known as greenhouse gases or GHGs. They vary in their longevity and ability to retain heat.

I have in front of me the American Lung Association’s “Breathtaking Views: 2016-2017 Clean Air Calendar.”

Besides the inclusion of some really pristine-looking “views” (photographs), for each calendar entry, there are messages relating to some related aspect – health conditions, air, quality of life, and legislative efforts aimed at improving the air we breathe.

When the lung association releases its “State of the Air” reports (April, since 2000), the entry for April fittingly is “Air Quality and Quality of Life.” I am not going to rewrite the message written. But, there is one thing that struck me: Air quality and quality of life grouped together. The two go hand in hand – the latter isn’t possible without the former. To wit: Good quality of life is impossible without good air quality. Being breathing is one of life’s most basic functions, the lungs can’t completely function as intended as long as the air breathed in is anything less than clean. We as humans should not want to settle for anything less.

Make 2017 a time to put air in a better state by doing your part to do just that. What have we got to lose? Just the harmful stuff mucking up air is all. Something everyone could do without – definitely!

Image above: NASA

San Joaquin Valley Air Basin 2016 vs. ’15 ozone update

Ozone exceedances in the San Joaquin Valley in California’s interior, preliminarily speaking, in 2016 numbered 88. This is six exceedances more than the year before. 2015’s numbers are preliminary also.

The ozone season in the Valley roughly lasts from March through October.

So, why the increase? Keep in mind that a big part of the Valley’s ozone problem is on account of emissions released from mobile sources. Driving all over California is up and that includes in the San Joaquin Valley.

But, the weather can be a factor, too. If there are more days when air stagnates and hence leads to smog formation, then the opportunity for ozone to stay present in the air, is greater.

Smog in the air forms in the presence of sunlight, heat and from the mixing of smog-forming emissions such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx), hydrocarbons (HC) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) – reactive gases, in other words, which could be from solvents, paints, etc. Regardless of source (mobile or stationary) responsible for releasing smog-contributing elements or gases into the air, they, each and every source, factor in smog’s creation.

The scourge that ozone is can cause lung irritation, trigger asthma attacks and lead to other lung and respiratory-related conditions and ailments.

Meanwhile, anytime the Air Quality Index reaches above 100, the air is considered to be in the unhealthy category. An AQI of 101 corresponds to ozone in the atmosphere at a level of 76 parts per billion (ppb) of air.

The Valley is required to meet the newest standard – 70 ppb – by 2037. The real question then is: will the Valley be able to meet this? Several very important factors to consider: population growth, implementation – presumably – of California’s high-speed rail system, greenhouse gas emissions mitigation measures statewide, possible continuation of global temperature rise, a possible continued increase of CO2 emissions concentration and transboundary drift, to name several.

Sprawl development also has an impact and it’s huge!

With each new housing subdivision that goes in Valleywide, this means additional miles vehicles travel. More miles traveled mean more pollution. Statewide, vehicles comprising either near-zero or zero-emissions types make up roughly 3.5 percent of all vehicles on the road. The number of registered vehicles on the roads in the Valley is roughly about half the population or about 2 million. Registered vehicles in California number about 31 to 32 million. California’s population is now 39 million. So, using a conservative 31 million registered motor vehicles, this translates to 1.33 people per vehicle, while in the Valley, there is a vehicle for every 2 people on average.

To this add that each year Californians drive in excess of 300 billion miles.

Furthermore, for the first three quarters of 2016 driving in the U.S. is up over the same three quarters last year. If the amount of time behind the wheel is going up, this means as well, presumably, that emissions from driving are rising too.

Without significant advances in technology, more work-related telecommuting, greater use of public transportation, improved farming methods, further reduction in waste, increased energy production using renewable sources, added green building projects, and implementation of programs and practices designed to save energy, reduce waste and pollute less, then one can and should expect one absolute: even more exceedance days of ozone in the Valley. That’s the reality.

The numbers bear this out.

An update: The article was updated on Dec. 13, 2016.