Naturalist’s view of San Joaquin Valley, California air pollution from high, high up

California's flat, expansive and agriculturally-robust but often air-pollution-shrouded San Joaquin Valley
California’s flat, expansive and agriculturally-robust but often air-pollution-shrouded San Joaquin Valley

A “naturalist” would, by definition, be into, well, “nature.” John Muir was a naturalist. But he was also big on protecting nature.

Meanwhile, an “environmentalist” would, by definition, be into the “environment” and one would think environmentalists would “naturally” be big on protecting the environment.

Where a naturalist might be an observer or documenter of the goings on of nature, an environmentalist not only might advocate for protecting the environment from destruction, but actually work toward protecting air, land, water and more from such. I see this as the main difference between naturalism and environmentalism.

Understanding what was just written, that a naturalist named William Tweed had written the commentary that he did – “Looking down on our Valley through our haze” – really, this should be of little surprise. In fact, such action would seem quite natural.

Continuing, in his commentary Tweed gives his take on San Joaquin Valley, California air pollution from high up in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A couple of Tweed op-ed items stand out.

The naturalist writes: “I go back to Alta Meadow [in Sequoia National Park] year after year because it has a truly astounding view. From the vicinity of my campsite, perched near the northern rim of the great canyon of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, one can see everything from the 13,000 [-foot]-high Kaweah Peaks to the Kaweah Delta country of the San Joaquin Valley.”

Tweed then remarks how from this Sierra Nevada vantage point summertime smog hides the Valley from view.

“As is almost always the case in the summer, the Valley was obscured by pervasive regional ‘haze’ – a nice word for the air pollution that fills our Valley nearly all the time during the summer months.”

From the Valley floor the situation is reversed, that is, the Sierra Nevada being blocked from sight. It works both ways.

Another of the items Tweed brought to bear to grab my attention was: “The inescapable truth is that, when it comes to air, we live in an extremely unforgiving place. If all four million of us lived in a region of comparable size somewhere in the Midwest and lived there just the way we live here, we would have cleaner air much of the time than we enjoy locally. Geography rules.”

Valley geography as it were in this case consists of a bowl, essentially, surrounded on its east, west and south sides by mountains that traps and holds, sometimes for weeks at a time, summertime Valley pollution and haze.

Due to polluted Valley skies having a tendency without a natural air disturbance such as wind or rain to send it packing, the simple truth is it lingers here which means extra effort above and beyond weather-related phenomena is necessary to not only clean air pollution up but keep it from coming back.

“The implications of this are difficult to escape,” Tweed insists. “Because we live in a region that is extremely prone to the collection and intensification of air pollution, we must work much harder here to control the pollution than is necessary in most other regions.”

Not to be overlooked either are San Joaquin Valley air pollution causes such as farming, manufacturing, oil extracting, outdoor food grilling, wine making and transport and travel.

While air pollution sources are identified, Tweed does not provide solutions in terms of cleaning pollution in our Valley up, at least not in this June 21, 2013 Visalia Times-Delta commentary, anyway.

The naturalist, nevertheless, does paint a clear picture of Valley air pollution as seen from his 9,000-foot-high perch.

Maybe Tweed felt it wasn’t his place in this particular platform to offer air pollution remediation solutions. There is simply no telling. But what Tweed definitely did do was open a door for others to weigh in in this regard, and that means environmentalists and naturalists included, even if that happens to be from above it all.

For more on this subject see: “Smog more than an eyesore: It’s a wake-up call.”

– Alan Kandel