An annual ‘National Healthy Air Awareness Day’? Nothing to lose save pollution

Living in California’s San Joaquin Valley, I can’t tell you how much I look forward to and appreciate an exceptionally clear day. On days like this the majestic and towering Sierra Nevada Mountains can be seen from miles away as can the Coast Range flanking the west. Worth its weight in gold is this sight to behold. More than that the air is pristine. Thankful am I when those days arrive. Like seeing a seldom seen loved one or friend.

Folks who’ve settled ’round these parts can tell you there’s been a change in the air, Sierra sitings were a dime a dozen and stars filled the nighttime sky.

California's agriculturally rich but often air-pollution shrouded San Joaquin Valley
California’s agriculturally rich but often air-pollution shrouded San Joaquin Valley

You all remember Carmageddon and Carmageddon II, right?

Well, on July 15, 2011 and then on September 29, 2012, over each of those two weekends, Interstate 405 through California’s Sepulveda Pass was shut down so that demolition work on the bridge carrying Mulholland Dr. over that section of freeway could be performed.

In “‘Carmaheaven’: Closure of 405 in 2011 improved air quality up to 83 percent,” the title of a University of California at Los Angeles news release, pointed out was that, “In study findings announced Sept. 28 [2012], UCLA researchers report that they measured air pollutants during last year’s Carmageddon (July 15-17) and found that when 10 miles of the 405 closed, air quality near the shuttered portion improved within minutes, reaching levels 83 percent better than on comparable weekends,” Alison Hewitt wrote.

“Because traffic dipped all over Southern California that weekend, air quality also improved 75 percent in parts of West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and an average of 25 percent regionally – from Ventura to Yucaipa and Long Beach to Santa Clarita.”

Also according to information in the UCLA release, the “improvement” was “dramatic.”

Speaking of which, TransForm in June 2009 introduced its heralded “Car-Free Challenge.” The idea is to incentivize San Francisco Bay Area commuters to park their cars and find alternative ways of getting around. The program lasted the entire month and was a resounding success, apparently, with the “Challenge” repeated in subsequent years.

Whereas April 22, 1970 marks Earth Day’s official beginning, the one day of the year to raise sustainability awareness, hopefully prompting people to be better stewards of the land, even if for one day, a day out of the year dedicated to likewise promoting the importance of healthy air could indeed go far, especially if regions plagued by the alternative are given a well-deserved respite. People could take it upon themselves to voluntarily drive less by using alternative transportation modes such as walking, biking and public transit. It’s not asking a lot, but with support, a day set aside to recognize clean air could just do the planet some much-needed good. July 15 for just such a day works for me.

Honestly, from where I stand, every day should be Healthy Air Awareness Day.

– Alan Kandel