Permitting of south Valley oil operation prompts lawsuit – an update

A Taft, California-based oil unloading and storage facility appears to now be in the hot seat regarding the way the crude oil terminal in question’s expansion was approved.

I first covered this story back on Feb. 17th (this year).

A quick review:

“Community and environmental groups filed suit … over the expansion—orchestrated mostly in secret—of a crude oil operation in Kern County that could lead to a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of crude imported by rail into California each year,” reported Earthjustice in the “Groups Sue to Stop Daily 100-Car Train Deliveries of Toxic Crude Oil to Bakersfield Terminal: Coalition sues over illegal permitting of major crude-by-rail project in Central Valley,” press release.

Bakersfield Crude Terminal
Bakersfield Crude Terminal

“In addition to dramatically increasing the risk to communities along the rail route, facilities such as the Bakersfield Crude Terminal are major sources of volatile organic compound emissions—a precursor to ozone air pollution. Breathing ozone is hazardous to respiratory health, and the San Joaquin Valley is one of two air basins in the United States designated ‘extreme nonattainment’ for federal ozone standards. The degraded state of the San Joaquin Valley’s air results in more than a thousand premature deaths each year, and one in six Valley children is diagnosed with asthma,” Earthjustice in its Jan. 29, 2015 release further remarked.

Now, an update

Now, in a May 4, 2015 Earthjustice press release, the organization announced:

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited the Bakersfield Crude Terminal for 10 violations of the Clean Air Act, declaring the California crude-by-rail facility a major air pollution source that should have been subjected to rigorous environmental review during the permitting process. The federal agency found that the terminal’s permit is invalid and that the facility lacks required pollution controls and emissions offsets, and that it is in violation of the Clean Air Act’s public notice and environmental review requirements.”

More specifically, “A public records request revealed communications between San Joaquin Valley Air District officials and the project manager for the terminal that included advice from the officials about how the project could avoid public noticing and pollution controls,” Earthjustice further explained in the release. “The Air District approved the massive expansion in a piece-meal permitting process that allowed one of the largest crude oil operations in California to expand largely out of public scrutiny.”

What happens now?

My understanding of additional information brought out in the May 4, 2015 Earthjustice release in question is that the imposition of fines levied against the terminal cannot be ruled out – such are certainly within the realm of possibility. It is also entirely possible that an appropriate and thorough permitting review process could still be required.

There is more on the matter here.

Image above: Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice

The auto: Where it is, where it’s been, where it’s going

Electric car from Edison
Electric car from Edison

The horseless carriage or automobile has been around since the late 19th century. In the car’s lifetime, there has been relatively little change in the basic design. Almost all have steering wheels, most ride on four wheels using two axles, all possess some type of propulsion source, most have a trunk and the majority have front and rear seating, doors that open and close along a horizontal plane as opposed to a vertical one and all production models require being driven. Each and every one is a variation on the same basic theme.

The differences can be found in body design, mechanical and electrical system design and performance, engine design and performance, ride quality and things of this nature – mostly subtle differences from one vehicle to the next. Up until only recently, all motor vehicles had tailpipes to exhaust pollutants into the atmosphere, pollution created due to internal combustion processes. Many still pollute but certainly not all. Over the years these mobile devices have become more sophisticated, they perform more functions automatically resulting in the driver doing less and less.

As good as the automobile has become in doing what it does (which would be to provide mobility), in the environment in which these power vehicles operate, there is still much to be desired. Accidents still occur. In fact, the number of lives lost in roadway collisions and crashes in the U.S. numbers in the tens of thousands each year. Traffic congestion/gridlock and delay is an economic drain eating up an estimated $101 billion annually, in terms of the amount of fuel and time wasted. While the vast majority of motor vehicles still pollute the air, there are those that burn fuel cleaner compared to others. Some don’t even pollute at all.

The above is a synopsis of the story of the automobile, obviously. Where motor vehicle development goes from here is anybody’s guess. But, current research, development and testing in the field could be clues.

Autonomous automobility: Can this really work?

There is the prospect of self-driving cars becoming a mainstay on roadways all across the globe if all falls into its proper place. The kind of excitement regarding development progress in this area, I don’t believe I’ve seen anything quite like this before. I fully understand why people are all abuzz about this possibility. The concept is truly revolutionary; I’ve got to give it that. But is autonomy in the automatic mobility realm the car concept of the future – be that future near or far-off?

Before getting too excited, there are many questions needing answering. One of the biggest concerns is safety. What am I taking about?! That’s the concern. Will these cars be able to get all passengers from origin to destination safely 100 percent of the time no matter what the external or outside influence present at the time? How, for example, will inclement weather affect self-operation? What about tire failure? How about avoiding any and all obstacles, whatever these are or whatever their form? You get the idea.

Before hitting the streets, robocars will be pre-approved for use – they’ll have to be. If not, not a single one will ever see time on the road. After all, the vehicle will be in control; not a driver. I hear-tell a steering wheel will be needed as a backup, you know, just in case. With no driver, though, is there even a need? Just asking.

I’m also under the impression that these cars might be moving about sans any passengers on board. Hypothetically speaking, a person may be on their way to work and request one to arrive at their home at a specific time. To illustrate further, at some remote location, an on-call or on-demand car may be parked. A request is received, the engine starts, and off it goes, all on its own. Of course, via the requester’s mobile device, constant updates will be provided regarding the car’s whereabouts. Right to the minute, the car arrives, waiting for the person making the request to board. Once in and taking the rider to their workplace, the occupant exits the vehicle after which the autonomous conveyance is now ready to accept its next assignment. This once was the stuff of science fiction. Now, it’s closer to being fact – science or otherwise.

Conditions quite common in the current driving environment are congestion, gridlock and delay. How will this be dealt with? Will a capability be in place to allow car (and occupant) to recognize where traffic is problematic? The assumption is it will. This being the case such cars may automatically choose a different routing to take to avoid problem areas. Then again, with autonomous automobility, travel on roadways may allow separation between cars immediately ahead and immediately following to be less, presumably, resulting in a more efficient operating platform. One wonders if there will be a need for lanes even.

All things considered, regarding the turn auto development takes (whatever that happens to be), it is imperative environmental considerations not take a back seat.

MUTCD_R3-18.svg[1]Time will tell.

The best dirty air cleanup tool going: Technology, meteorology, what?

The second I learned from the American Lung Association’s (ALA) “Millions of Americans Breathing Unhealthy, Polluted Air Finds American Lung Association’s 2015 ‘State of the Air’ Report: Strong Improvements for Many Cities, Others Suffer Worst Air Quality Episodespress release, that cities in California’s San Joaquin Valley were among those having the nation’s smoggiest and sootiest air, I wasn’t exactly thrown for a loop. Neither was I surprised to find that in the “Top 10 Most Ozone-Polluted [U.S.] Cities” category Los Angeles was in the top (worst) spot and occupied the fifth position in two other categories: “Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Short-term Particle Pollution (24-hour PM 2.5)” and “Top 10 U.S. Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution (Annual PM 2.5).” And brought out in the release as well, the ongoing California drought, now in its fourth year incidentally, has apparently contributed to making the bad-air situation that had existed prior to the sustained dry spell, even worse.

To say that attention aplenty is being paid Los Angeles and Valley air is an understatement. Be this as it may, has such been of any help in putting air in these regions back on the right track? Who can say?! What I’ve noticed in a number of media and editorial accounts is one overarching theme in particular: both these regions, that is, in the air-quality-improvement sense, need help – lots of help, I would say. Of course, for any area or community plagued with problematic air, the sounding of alarm bells calling for comprehensive and corrective action to be taken also seems par for the course. But, in places like LA and the Valley, two Golden State areas regularly impacted by filthy air, whatever the work done and whatever the improvement in air quality made is it enough? One person cited in one article and in commenting in effect, intones “not even close.” According to what I understand the referenced person in this article to be saying is that it will take technology to save the day. Technology to the rescue, eh? Such will play an important role, no question.

Diesel particulate filter
Diesel particulate filter

Further, surfacing from time to time is discussion, the premise being that a consistent part of the Valley air-quality problem is that pollution drifts or blows in from elsewhere and how those sources responsible outside the area should also be held to account. Makes sense to me. But, it’s not that cut and dried. Some of the air toxins finding their way to and settling in inland communities are actually originating from points offshore and from Asia specifically. That which is Valley bound, the exact amount coming from Asia and the portion sourced from the San Francisco Bay Area is the subject of debate.

Meanwhile, others place blame on physical barriers such as area geography and topography. Meteorology, well, that’s a contributing factor too. And, as odd as this may sound, almost universally missing from the conversation in the news and editorial accounts I’ve been reading as of late having to do with the ALA’s air report, is mention of the fact that poor metropolitan land-use planning and building practices contributed significantly to both Los Angeles’ and the San Joaquin Valley’s deficit air condition nor did I see specific mention of the Golden State’s very ambitious and air-friendlier high-speed rail project, though this might fall under the technology umbrella. As to why this was, I cannot say for sure. Though, what I did pick up on is that in most all cases referenced is how the quality of both regions’ air has improved.

In summation, that which has been presented here speaks volumes. Moreover, there is agreement that work to clean air up in the state’s central interior and southern coastal region is needed. And, regarding the quality of the air in each mentioned region or maybe more correctly the lack thereof, the attention it is getting is nothing short of its fair share.

Still left to be determined is what area is better equipped in terms of helping air get to a healthier place in addition to what area will see the greatest air gains as time marches on. Why this is a big deal is because whichever one of the two does the more effective job will most assuredly have implications for the other.

Two words: stay tuned.

Image above: Dana60Cummins

Air report names California cities as country’s worst soot, ozone polluters

Once again, California cities occupy the top five spots in terms of having the nation’s sootiest and smoggiest air, according to the American Lung Association (ALA) as detailed in its “State of the Air 2015” report.

Fireplace_Burning[1]For daily PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers across), the number 1 through 5 spots are: Fresno-Madera; Bakersfield; Visalia-Porterville-Hanford; Modesto-Merced; and Los Angeles-Long Beach, the association found. It was the same cities again in the same order regarding worst to fifth worst annual PM 2.5 data. Meanwhile, communities ranked worst through fifth worst for ozone, according to the ALA are: Los Angeles-Long Beach; Visalia-Porterville-Hanford; Bakersfield; Fresno-Madera; and Sacramento-Roseville.

In its “Millions of Americans Breathing Unhealthy, Polluted Air Finds American Lung Association’s 2015 ‘State of the Air’ Report: Strong Improvements for Many Cities, Others Suffer Worst Air Quality Episodespress release, the association expressed:

“Six cities had a record number of days with dangerous levels of particle pollution, while many others had more than in the 2014 report, which covered 2010 to 2012.

“Ozone was mixed, with many cities – particularly in California – doing better than in the 2014 report, but many having more unhealthy ozone days.”

All across the U.S. unhealthful air quality levels impact over 138 million people – or more than four in 10.

“The 16th annual national report card shows that improvement in the nation’s air quality was mixed, with many cities experiencing strong improvements, while others suffered increased episodes of unhealthy air, and a few even marked their worst number of unhealthy days,” the ALA reported in the release.

This year’s report reflects data collected for years 2011, 2012 and 2013. “The impact of climate change is particularly apparent in the western United States, where heat and drought create situations ripe for episodes of high particle pollution, a pollutant recently found to cause lung cancer.”

Diesel-smoke[1]Sources of toxic air pollution range from energy, industry and transportation to agriculture, construction and residential wood-burning and miscellaneous others like lightning strikes and volcanic eruptions.

In no uncertain terms the association is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revise its current ozone health standard, urging that it be made more protective of human health, information in the release in question indicated.

The release of this year’s American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report coincidentally comes on the third day of Air Quality Awareness Week 2015 in America.

There is more on the “State of the Air 2015” report here.

Air Quality Awareness Week 2015 – Part 4: Automobility’s and waste’s 3Rs

While others have their definitions, I have my own ideas of what constitutes automobility. What automobility means to me is anything that provides mobility, motion initiated by some external or internal means of power or force, inertia, of course, being overcome. Such a broad definition, I know.

Hydrogen_vehicle[1]There are many, many methods to make automobility a reality. Internal combustion engine, electric motor, air or vacuum pressure propulsion power all coming to mind. This can be achieved with relatively low amounts of pollution being pumped into the air via exhaust or absent any pollutants being introduced into the atmosphere at all. Several principles or technologies are presented.

The other part of this profile has to do with waste and the handling thereof. As consumers, one cannot separate consumption from expulsion – the waste component; the stuff that gets tossed, in other words. They go hand in hand.

Enough said. Time to get a move on in exploring the automobility and waste and waste-handling realms.

The three Rs: Replace, recharge, repair

Automobility is an area that really piques my interest; it always has ever since I can remember. Earlier in life I wasn’t so much concerned with the propulsion aspect as much as I am now. As I get older – and hopefully, wiser – I look at today’s inventions differently than the way I looked at those then new inventions of yesteryear. Today, for me, it is all about protecting the air and protecting health – first and foremost.

The thing I’m still trying to get my head around is a seeming reluctance on the part of the mass motoring community to drive more cleaner-burning, more fuel-efficient, higher-mileage-per-gallon vehicles. Okay, so I’ll admit that these can be more expensive at the time of purchase than the more run-of-the-mill vehicles. But, farther down the road, the former in a head-to-head comparison wind up by far being the less expensive alternative. It should be noted though that there are more alternatives to choose from these days than there were just a decade ago.

So, using my own automobile purchasing history as an example, vehicles went from what I would call gross polluting, less efficient types to far cleaner-burning much more efficient kinds of motor vehicles – what I would classify as ultra-low-emissions. Following that trend, the next logical step for me would be no or zero-emissions should I make another automobile purchase. It just makes sense. This takes care of the “replace” R.

As for the “recharge” R, should I purchase an electric vehicle, then the element of recharging onboard batteries enters the picture. If recharging of batteries can be done by way of a renewable energy supply, all the better.

Finally, there is the “repair” R. I’ve been a huge adherent of this principle right out of the starting gate, practically. If something can be repaired, great. If I can do the repair myself, even greater. As far as I’m concerned, maintenance plays such an important part in the automobility realm.

Meanwhile, not to be overlooked is the testing part of the experience. Testing systems as a way to check for integrity allows a person to know whether a mobility device is performing up to par.

As a brief aside, I wonder if travel in autonomous vehicles at some point will constitute the ultimate automobility (notice I didn’t say “driving”) experience. I’m just saying.

Let’s not forget: Reduce, reuse, recycle

Waste. I know I’ve been over this ground before. So, please excuse if some or all of what I am about to convey is repeated.

Waste. It comes in all shapes and sizes. There is waste of every description. So, what to do with it all is the real question.

Waste. Reducing the amount of waste goes without saying. Beyond that there is recycling and reusing of such.

Perth, Western Australia, landfill
Perth, Western Australia, landfill

Whatever can be recycled, like paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, metal why shouldn’t it? Moreover, whatever can be reused, ditto? As I am learning in reading Gar W. Lipow’s “Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming,” reducing material intensity is a big theme that carries throughout Lipow’s book and reducing the material intensity of waste is a big part of that. Also, by reducing the intensity of materials this also provides for a reduction in energy usage and therefore increased energy savings results.

All of which seems quite fitting, that is, as it relates to Air Quality Awareness Week 2015.

This concludes this four-part series.

Air Quality Awareness Week: One of the best awareness programs going to inspire the good air stewards in each of us to help make more breathable, this precious world resource we call air.

Image above (lower): Ashley Felton

Air Quality Awareness Week 2015 – Part 3: Reducing polluting commuting

The thought of that dreaded commute. No commuter looks forward to a commute experience fraught with bumper-to-bumper traffic inching ever-so-slowly forward. Yet, for many, this is exactly the routine such motorists wedded to the automobile must endure day in and day out (twice per day in most cases) for five of seven days each week. Been there, done that myself. In fact, in the San Francisco Bay Area on the 12-mile work commute to and from my apartment each day of the workweek, going to in the mornings and coming from in late afternoons took no less than half an hour and 45 minutes, respectively. I remember that 1977-’78 slog well. Don’t miss it a bit. So, in what ways can the commute be made less burdensome and more eco-friendly at the same time? Two ways are explored here to help better achieve these ends.

“It’s off to work ‘we’ go”: Ways that can be employed to reduce driving during times of peak demand make sense. And, there are various ways to do just that.

360px-CBX_Parkchester_6_jeh[1]But what about implementing ways to limit driving no matter what the time of day? This type of action, in my view, should also be encouraged.

Commuting constitutes roughly 30 percent of all travel, rail- and road-based alike. “In its ‘AASHTO [American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials] Completes Series of Reports Tracking Commuter Trends and Behavior’ news release of Jan. 28, 2015, the Association wrote: ‘America is a nation on the move – rarely more so than during its daily commute to work, which comprises approximately 28 percent of all daily trips on U.S. roadways and transit systems, according to a new research paper,’” I explained in the Feb. 2, 2015 Air Quality Matters blog post “Air-quality improvement likely with a changing commute.” That’s no small amount.

Reducing commuting pollution can come in several forms. There are car/van/bus pooling programs; employers providing flexible and staggered and compressed work scheduling options; telecommuting opportunities; as well as promoting reliance on alternative mode – active (walking and biking) and public transportation – use.

You may wish to consult the “Healthy Air Living Employee Trip Reduction Resource Book” document published by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to learn more.

Ticket to ride free: On days when the quality of the air is unhealthful, why not make public transit free?

The world-renowned city of Paris, France has it correct, in my opinion. Not only is the amount of driving restricted on days when the concentration of pollution present in the air is high, but, additionally, free rides on public transportation are afforded not only the commuting public, but the general public as well.

Reducing polluting commuting is obviously more than just a catchphrase notion. Success can be achieved through sustained commitment along with maintaining an atmosphere of cooperation among all interested persons to see such action through. This can be done.

Automobility as well as waste and waste-handling options will be explored in Part 4.

Air Quality Awareness Week 2015 – Part 2: Homing in on home energy use

Hybrid_Power_System[1]The name of the game: reducing pollution.

Various air-pollution-reduction strategies will be presented throughout this series. Obviously many, many more exist than what are being offered here. But, each and every one presented has value and benefits air quality, even if the benefit is but a minor one.

Meanwhile, the two presented today – indoor lighting and outdoor independent photovoltaic power generation – equally find application in residential, commercial and industrial settings.

Let there be (LED) lighting: a good place to start is inside the home. Replacing fluorescent with light-emitting diode (LED) lighting could result in energy use being less. Perhaps LED lighting’s most attractive feature is its relatively low power consumption. Moreover, LED lights operate far cooler than what typical incandescent lights do. Add to this that LEDs last and last and last. And what’s more, they are easy to replace.

In discarding, both fluorescent and LED lighting should be properly disposed of. Check in your local area to learn what provisions (programs and services) are in place for proper fluorescent and LED lamp/light disposal.

Under the sun: In the home saving energy is the name of the game. And, in some cases, it takes going outside of it to achieve just that. A home powered by an outdoor solar (photovoltaic) system is one that can do much in the energy-savings regard.

SolarpanelBp[1]Solar system purchase and installation costs can be high. Though once installed and operational, these save money over the long run compared to electricity that is purchased exclusively from the utility.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels are relatively easy to clean when dirty. By simply hosing them off, panel surface dirt will wash away. Not just this, but clean panels make for more efficient panels.

A big advantage of having one’s electricity being PV produced and supplied becomes quite clear during black and brown outs. In other words, in many cases, there is no interruption in service.

The operation of a PV system coupled with home LED lighting on the inside along with other energy-savings-measures taken, can go a long ways toward reducing demand on the utility-fed grid supply and that, in turn, can help in the area of less pollution being pumped into the air from power plants that rely on the burning of fossil fuels as a means to produce energy and electricity.

You may wish to consult the book: “30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth,” an Earth Works Press publication distributed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, to learn more.

Up next in Part 3, the commute.

Image above (upper): U.S. Department of Energy

Air Quality Awareness Week 2015 – Part 1: Fuel, land use alternatives

Monday, April 27th is the Air Quality Awareness Week 2015 kickoff. AQAW runs through Friday, May 1st.

The Los Colinas community, Irving, Texas
The Los Colinas community, Irving, Texas

The way I see it, Air Quality Awareness Week is an occasion with a two-fold purpose: 1) raise awareness of air issues; and 2) disseminate widely, information that is both practical and valuable with the singular goal of helping bring world air to a more healthy state of repair. For me, this is about talking up the successes – the “quality” part of the total air picture and the main thrust of this multi-part series. As it relates, each installment will be devoted to presenting ideas on how the quality of the air can be improved.

Some background

Many of the world’s inhabitants, unfortunately, are exposed to toxic air pollution in high concentrations – the exposures being infrequent and frequent alike depending. The challenge by all impacted then is in not only finding ways to effectively deal with the short- and/or long-term negative impacts, but in finding comprehensive and lasting solutions to effectively mitigate toxic air.

So, what are some of the efforts or programs that have proven to be helpful when it comes to improving poor air quality?

Just for your information, I mentioned quite a number of these in the “Earth Day 2015: Talk about cause, case for air care, this is it!” post.

Here are several more:

Balancing act: The way land is utilized can have a huge impact on the air. To exemplify, years ago much of the southern California landscape was dotted with orange groves and other high-value plantings. Orange County, as the name suggests, would offer a clue.

320px-Los_Angeles_Basin_JPLLandsat[1]It turns out much southland acreage has been converted to other uses. So, on what was once high-value farmland highways, houses and shopping centers now stand.

It’s a familiar theme; a theme that over the years has resulted in a tremendous increase in the amount of driving and extra miles of travel logged. But, it’s not like this is what suburbanization purposely set out to do, that is, to encourage driving per sé, but it’s exactly what has happened – one of the phenomenon’s unintended consequences.

The trick now is in establishing a building and land-use-development policy-and-program paradigm, a central tenet of which is to find and maintain the correct balance when it comes to building and land use, all the while keeping environment, public health and quality of life among other important aspects in mind.

Fuel for thought: Alternative fuels or alt fuels are among those transportation-related topics with probably the least attention paid. Biofuels, ethanol made from corn and other ingredients as well as waste vegetable oils, for instance, are all alternative fuels and can be substituted in whole or in part (the so-called “blended fuels”) for gasoline and diesel. Then there are the additives like Dimethyl Ether or DME.

Hydrogen_station_pump[1]Though there has been debate regarding ethanol’s effectiveness as a clean-fuel alternative or fuel additive, other alt fuels like waste vegetable oil (WVO) actually pass the, wait for it, smell test. Other alt fuels like liquefied natural gas (LNG) are still in the testing and evaluation stage in the railroad realm, particularly. Compressed natural gas (CNG) as an alt fuel, on the other hand, is already proven.

The problem with many alternative fuels has to do with the refueling infrastructure itself – it’s currently in limited supply. As far as hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles are concerned, for example, the growth in sales has been meager, that is, comparatively speaking. You might say the alternative-fuel field is still in its infancy and still evolving.

Change is inevitable being change is a constant, and should present conditions change, interest in and increased use of alternative fuels could someday pick up way more than what it is now. And that someday could be really soon.

In Part 2 the focus is energy usage both in and outside the home.

Middle image: NASA

Of Earth Day and a past, present and future Earth

For two years I’ve written about Earth Day on Earth Day (Apr. 22nd) and I figure: why should this year be different?! Witness “Earth Day 2014: ‘Conserve’ is the word” and “Earth Day 2013: The view of one interested observer.”

So, here is this year’s Earth Day message.

I never know exactly what I’m going to write until the time arrives to actually start writing. Using word-processing software via a computer makes writing with pen and paper seem so anachronistic. With advancements in technology introduced at seemingly such an accelerated rate, one has to wonder what’s next technology-breakthrough-wise. Holographic keyboards and screens?

That’s the future. And, it may not be that far off.

In contemplating and talking about the future today, I can’t help but be reminded of the same exact exercise being conducted in times past. I’m specifically talking 1964-’65 in the Big Apple (New York City), and more specifically of the World’s Fair and of the “Futurama” exhibit in particular. The future, as you can well imagine, is what this exhibit was all about.

What I remember specifically, is entering the building not really knowing what to expect and catching sight of a moving conveyor belt of seats arranged side-to-side with fair-goers each taking a seat. When it was my turn to do likewise, that the seats were attached to a continuously moving conveyor, I can imagine it taking some degree of finesse to transition from a standing to sitting position without stumbling. I was all of 11 or 12 at the time.

Moving from left to right, before too long I was conveyed to a room which revealed what cities could look like in the not-too-distant future. In my mind’s eye it was the kind of 3-D model a person might expect an architectural firm to design and build, a diorama of sorts or something very similar.

Here is an account of how “Futurama” is described on Wikipedia:

“At the New York World’s Fair of 1939/1940, industrial exhibitors played a major role by hosting huge, elaborate exhibits. Many of them returned to the New York World’s Fair of 1964/1965 with even more elaborate versions of the shows they had presented 25 years earlier. The most notable of these was General Motors Corporation whose Futurama, a show in which visitors seated in moving chairs glided past elaborately detailed miniature 3D model scenery showing what life might be like in the ‘near-future’, proved to be the fair’s most popular exhibit. Nearly 26 million people took the journey into the future during the fair’s two-year run.”

Though this isn’t about the 1964/1965 exhibit per sé, this description nevertheless should provide sufficient insight as to what that might have been like. Described in some detail is the original “Futurama” exhibit at the New York World’s Fair of 1939/1940.

“The popularity of the Futurama exhibit fit closely with the fair’s overall theme ‘The World of Tomorrow’ not just in its emphasis on the future, but also in its redesign of the American landscape. The highway system was supported within a one-acre animated model of a projected America containing more than five hundred thousand individually designed buildings, a million trees of thirteen different species, and approximately fifty thousand motorcars, ten thousand of which traveled along a fourteen-lane multi speed interstate highway. It prophesied an American utopia regulated by an assortment of cutting-edge technologies: remote-controlled multi lane highways, power plants, farms for artificially produced crops, rooftop platforms for individual flying machines and various gadgets, all intended to create an ideal built environment and ultimately to reform society.”

Now compare that to what actually transpired. The “remote-controlled multi lane highways” bit brings to mind the introduction of today’s self-driving car, although, I’m not sure what to make of the “rooftop-platforms-for-individual-flying-machines-and-various-gadgets” idea. The closest representations along these lines I can think of are flying automobiles and drones.

To expound further, imagine the 14-lane highway being the infrastructure of choice in a time only two decades into the future? And to expect these to have multiple operating speeds (something on the order of autos 55 mph; autos with trailers, trucks 50 mph, possibly) all the while still maintaining unrestrained traffic flow, unfortunately, this is not exactly the way things panned out. I’m sure to the designer the whole idea then made sense.

Because the New York World’s Fair was so very long ago, a half-century ago in fact, my recollection of the whole thing is vague at best. The Pennsylvania Railroad providing dependable and yes, sustainable transportation in the form on an electrified train trip is what I remember most about the entire experience and what enabled me to get to the fair and back. Back then, that really was the future! High-speed passenger rail transportation is what immediately comes to mind.

Back to the future, in this case the present, how we arrived where we are in the world today is no accident. It all has to do with the collective accomplishments and failures we’ve made along the way. Learning from the mistakes and by not repeating them, then this can lead to even more accomplishments being made. In so doing and in learning, growing and moving forward as a result, that right there, progress, now that’s what I’m talking about!

That all said, today is the day to celebrate and respect and take care of the earth. Though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t reiterate what was said here in the past, and that is: as far as I’m concerned, Earth Day is every day or should be, anyway.

320px-Benton_County_wind_turbines[1]

Earth Day 2015: Talk about cause, case for air care, this is it!

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17[1]As I write this with Earth Day just around the corner, I can’t help but think this thought: Without pollution in our air, would there still be air-quality-related matters to report, write about or comment on? Oh, I suppose there still would be but at the same time I suspect that written accounts on the subject would be fewer and farther between. No air pollution at all?! Wouldn’t that be nice! At any rate, there is still a ways to go in getting to that place, though.

On the other side of the coin, I have, over the course of my writing on the Air Quality Matters blog, covered a lot of ground and much has been discussed related to the achievements and positive progress made. That’s the good news – literally and figuratively.

Air pollution exists independent of whether it is written about or not. That’s a given. As of late, considerable attention has been paid the air. Exactly why this has happened is difficult to put a finger on. What helps bring attention are awareness efforts such as Earth Day and Air Quality Awareness Week, the latter of which occurs between Mon., Apr. 27th and Fri., May 1st this year.

This may sound so cliché but our planet is the only one we have and, being this is the case, Earth should be taken care of; not taken for granted. It is with this in mind that one day has been set aside each year to mark this day to recognize and remember the earth. Always on Apr. 22nd, this year, Earth Day 2015 is next Wednesday and will mark the occasion’s 45th anniversary.

As for taking better care of the earth and air, there are a number of ways in which people can make a real Earth Day difference. Here’s but a few.

Reduce idle time: Unnecessary idling, it wastes gas and unnecessarily pollutes the air. If there is no good reason for idling gasoline-powered motor-vehicle engines beyond what is absolutely necessary, then why do it? Weather conditions, though, may dictate the amount of vehicle engine idling done.

Find your routes: Routes taken that present less of an impediment to traffic flow should be considered. Maybe there is a case where a road goes over top or underneath a railroad track or a group of tracks via an over- or under-pass, respectively, and where having to wait for a train to pass would not be a factor. Such alternative routes can be utilized to help keep mobility more fluid.

Walk, don’t drive: Walking, riding a bike or using public transportation in place of using the automobile can help on the air-quality-improvement front.

Lights out: At home, keeping lights off when not needed could aid in keeping energy costs down.

Safety first: Around the house, when time is at hand to replace batteries in smoke- and carbon monoxide-detectors, by replacing such, this can help ensure such detectors work as intended.

In-home air care: Regularly replacing air conditioning and heating and air-cleaner-system and stove and range hood filter elements and screens and keeping exhaust fans clean, can go a long ways toward helping keep such in-home devices in optimum working condition.

Hydrogen_vehicle[1]Gassing up: In topping off the tank when adding gas or diesel fuel to vehicle fuel tanks, this may cause excess vapors to escape into the air. Tires kept properly inflated can help reduce gasoline consumption. Routine vehicle maintenance involving tune-ups, replacement of oil, transmission fluid, and oil-filter and air-filter changes all can help spare the air.

Cook with gas: When it comes to cooking out of doors, by substituting a gas grill for one where charcoal or wood is typically used, this too could go far to help the air and the earth.

By making a change for the better, done one or more times, whether on the one day to celebrate Earth or on any other day of the year for that matter, just imagine: with myriad people doing likewise, not only would this make for a better world but what a world of difference such action would undoubtedly make!

Earth Day 2015: A case and a cause for Earth and air care if ever there were one.

Top image: NASA