‘(I Did It) My Way’: May be SoCal’s goods movement air-cleanup anthem…or maybe not

So, sitting in my living room on Wed. evening Feb. 1, 2017, I watched intently the PBS (Public Broadcasting System) NOVA episode “Search for the Super Battery,” some of the program content shown previously on the Jan. 29, 2017 edition of CBS’ “Sunday Morning.”

Battery – Dry Cell

Batteries being the NOVA program’s key highlight, such others as energy storage, electric cars and air pollution, those playing, as it were, “second fiddle,” made in this production, more, I could say, than just cameo appearances. Obviously, those having the lesser roles, even so, played an integral part in the overall production.

Now, as to the pollution part its emphasis seemed to be centered on its need to be reduced so as to avoid climate catastrophe, that is, if I got the story, or perhaps more correctly, the story content straight.

Unlike other conversations focused on ways to lower or entirely eliminate harmful, unhealthful air toxics, everything regarding battery development as it related to the environmental sustainability aspect presented in this one NOVA edition showed promise.

I can imagine a world someday where batteries last and last and last, can be recharged umpteen million times more than what they can at present, are constructed of materials that do not ignite when punctured, overcharged or otherwise, and pose no environmental danger in both their manufacture and disposal. According to what narrator and host science and technology correspondent David Pogue in this NOVA segment uncovered, this place and time is not far off. As a matter of fact, from what I observed, we are knocking on that front door.

In a world of many issues affecting quality of life, air pollution and climate change being high on the list (I will have much more to say about this in an upcoming Air Quality Matters post), in the area of emissions reduction, there is considerable ground still to cover.

What is especially disheartening is the notion that premature deaths are growing in number (though the numbers of early deaths from long-term exposure to ambient fine particulate matter pollution per 100,000 were, in 2013, fewer than what they were in 1990 – 239 versus 272) regarding those resulting from exposure to polluted air (both fine particulate matter and ozone) over the long term. See additional information here.

Given this situation, new methods of combatting the stifling and debilitating nemesis that air pollution is – and the degree that the problem has gotten, are unequivocally called for. That said, I’m just not sure one of the latest – self-reducing, self-policing, call it what you will – in the transportation arena as expected to have been put forth today by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), is the way to go. Concerned is the movement of goods in particular. Sound crazy?

The thinking, presumably, is that produced will be positive results. Railroading, sea-faring cargo-carrying, trucking and even warehousing interests – if this action should come to pass – as I understand it, will be able to “voluntarily” employ their own measures to bring about emissions reductions and, whereby when all is said and done, again, presumably, air condition will be improved.

But, there’s a caveat: Based on my understanding, if the proposal’s joint-approach method can’t be agreed upon by all parties concerned within the span of a year, regulators will fast intervene by imposing strict air-pollutant emissions regulations. Details are spelled out in the Los Angeles Times article: “Air quality board set to adopt smog plan with voluntary measures for ports, tougher rules on refineries.”

So, this begs the question: Does a program of this type even have a snowball’s chance of success?

In the southern California region that includes Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties, with a population of 17 million, smog in the area over the past year intensified. In 2016 the number of days of unhealthy smog was 132. This is up from 112, from the year preceding, according to the L.A. Times piece. Times reporter Tony Barboza noted also that roughly 40 percent of imported cargo for delivery all throughout the country arrives at the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Transportation activity – port-tied and independent of – is responsible for much of the area’s air-pollution problem.

One could easily argue that a programmatic, collaborative approach of this type should be given a chance to prove itself, instead of it being immediately dismissed as ineffective.

To help lend credence, what I saw in the “Search for the Super Battery” NOVA episode could be emblematic: several profiled, interviewed company representatives, with regard to the direction many concerns are taking in terms of their researching and developing alternative energy and storage capability, are indeed in some respects blazing a new trail, thus paving a course to what I see as a better way forward.

At the very least, this idea in essence of a “do-it-yourself” tack to reduce one’s environmental and air impact among the powers that be in the cargo-movement industry as it pertains to the South Coast Air Basin deserves a try.

If a success in this application at this time, who knows: voluntary efforts to cut pollutant emissions in the broader transportation sector could be next.

Then again, if not, strictly followed could be the previously and now firmly-established “standard” protocol – ahem, that’d be, employment of the traditional method of regulation, in case there is any wondering.

Lower image above: NASA

– Alan Kandel