Food for thought: A (hopefully) motivational new-year message

Well, it’s almost that time again – almost time to ring in a new year. Just days away, what kind of year will 2015 be?

So let’s look at a few of the issues now before us.

‘Air’ and ‘quality’ need not be a contradiction in terms, really

Not wanting to rain on anyone’s parade or beat a dead horse, but face it: 147 million Americans are regularly exposed to polluted air, according to the American Lung Association; what, in my words, is damaged, deleterious and deplorable air. And, each year, by one estimate, 200,000 Americans are dying prematurely on account of it. And, based on World Health Organization estimates, worldwide, the number is roughly 35 times that – or more than 7 million early deaths from air pollution’s effects.

If that kind of sad commentary weren’t enough, because annual mean temperatures have been trending upward, word is, the effect this is having is exacerbating air condition making it more susceptible to becoming more polluted more readily or easily.

To reach a global climate accord

Climate change, climate disruption, global warming, call it what you will, arguably, with a carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the air of close to 400 parts per million, the CO2 that got there had to come from somewhere.

Of the written accounts that I have read on the global rise in CO2, more often than not, that rise is attributed to the burning of fossil fuels. On this, people, generally, agree. Though, that seems to me to be where agreement ends.

Why I say this is because yet to materialize from all the talk at recent global climate change conferences and summits is a binding accord, representatives from over 190 nations taking part, notwithstanding – the latest one in Lima, Peru, South America – still there is no such agreement – yet. While I don’t expect everyone to see eye-to-eye on every single issue on the table, however, with as many taking part as there were, all going to all the trouble of convening, after all the many meetings, surely, there must be some progress to speak of; the kind that can be built upon more and more each time getting that much closer to reaching a plan that in terms of implementation is doable, achievable.

Same ol’, same ol’ or something smarter?

Okay, so with greater emphasis being placed on and greater use of active (walking, biking) and public transportation, in compact, transit-oriented neighborhoods, pollutant emissions levels are held down. And, while residents in sprawled out neighborhoods and communities without good access to public transit and that don’t encourage active modes to meet mobility needs, depending more heavily on fossil-fuel-driven power vehicles to get travelers to and from, more – not less – pollution results, comparatively speaking, that is.

Understanding the relationship, it would seem that encouraging more compact development that is both transit and pedestrian/bike friendly would be the way to go. But, it isn’t just this. Also understanding that approximately 80 percent of the world’s peoples reside in cities, the cities responsible for contributing the lion’s share to world emissions, it seems not only logical but prudent that the message to advance in talks at climate conferences in terms of cutting down on emissions is the one that is better at reducing said emissions rather than the one that isn’t.

There, however, are invariably those who will and do cry foul. Is it that they are against the smart-growth paradigm per se or is it more a case of their supporting letting market forces set the course? Or maybe there is fear that a smart-growth movement will come at the expense of local economies being hurt.

Fervent disapproval of dense, mixed-use, infill development might very well be misplaced. Reason being is because often those in decision-making positions see outward growth (read: “sprawl”) as a way of generating needed revenue to pay for the infrastructure necessary to support that sprawl. But my view of this whole “more-horizontal-development-begets-more-revenue” model is that the way these schemes wind up playing out is that revenue inadequacy or unsustainability in so many a situation rears its ugly head.

Contrarily, the smart growth building apparatus isn’t typically a drain on city coffers the way the sprawled development machine is because much of the needed infrastructure and support services as it pertains to development and redevelopment in the inner-core is already in place. Or as one pundit, Jeff Turrentine in “Neighborhood Watch” in OnEarth magazine very insightfully put it: “… I believe the champions of sustainability should be emphasizing how ideas that fall under the rubric of smart growth benefit all of us, wherever we reside. Their new message needs to be: if you really love your suburban quality of life, then know that the greatest threat to it isn’t coming from bureaucrats, environmentalists, or liberal politicians. It’s coming from that brand new, almost-completed housing development going up right next to yours.”

So, what’ll it be: More of the same ol’, same ol’ or, well, something smarter?

California and U.S. high-speed passenger train transportation

Coupled to the land use issue is transportation and America is adding a new dimension: High-speed passenger train travel.

On Friday, Dec. 12th, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced in a media advisory notice that ground will officially be broken in Fresno, California (my home town) on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015.

It has been a long and arduous road just getting to this juncture. If I am not mistaken, high-speed rail in the Golden State is at least two decades in the making if not longer. Not just California’s, there are others in the pipeline too.

I would also like to put in a good word if I may for both rail- and road-centered transportation. These are continually being improved upon. I think what we can look forward to and expect are many advancements in the new year ahead.

New EPA O3 standards on the horizon: What will these be?

Oh, and one more positive, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is to decide on a new health standard for ozone. The current standard is 75 parts per billion (ppb) of air set in 2008. As it stands, it would appear the current standard is not health-protective enough. Question is: What will the new ozone health standards – one primary (human health) and one secondary (environmental health) – be? Based on what I’ve read and understand, these will be on the order of from 65 ppb to 70 ppb or could be an even more health protective 60 ppb possibly. From what I understand a decision will be handed down by October.

End note

Whatever kind of world it is that we wish to have, ultimately that rests with us. I hope my message has been both inspiring and motivational, enough to help bring about positive change to the air which all people breathe and to the world in which all people live.

– Alan Kandel