At 19, in 1972 in September, I got my first real taste of smog. You see, it was on a visit to Fullerton, California, that I really took note. What I saw was this grayish-colored haze permeating the air. Ports, steel manufacturing, transportation corridors and hubs (including airports) and more, contributed; that plus area land geography and topography in addition to the kinds of meteorological conditions present, made the entire metropolitan region ripe for smog formation. Add in the needed chemical ingredients and there you go.
The haze was hard to miss. What was far less apparent, on the other hand, were people who were affected by this blight in their lives in terms of their making their reactions to such known. Everyone I came in contact with seemed to not be fazed by the scourge in the least. All appeared to go about their business as if this smog was nothing out of the ordinary. It was as if ozone had just become an accepted part of southern California life. This is the impression I have now in thinking back.
There came a point when a connection was made between air we could see and its adverse, detrimental effects on health, if breathed in over long periods of time. As a result of it being recognized that something had to be done to make air cleaner, many efforts were initiated and pursued to do just that.
In 1975, in California – the state I now call home – the first two-way catalytic converters on motor vehicles arrived on the scene. The move, apparently, as good as it was for its time, didn’t go far enough. If we really wanted to nip pollution from vehicles in the bud, at a time of limited air-improving technologies being available, if less negative impact from the transportation sector in terms of effect on air was expected, then, really, there was one remedy only: there would need to be less driving, which meant people would have to be afforded other options by which to get around.
But, of course, transportation (mobile sources) was but one contributor to bad air. Other entities would be called on to do their parts too, namely, industry, energy, agriculture and even the general citizenry. It was a task that got more and more difficult as polluted air was compounded by a growing population.
There is a mantra that only recently I have become familiar with and that has deep meaning for me and that is: Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Not doing, meanwhile, is worth nothing. So, this is going to take some work – make no mistake.
So, here it is 2017, some 74 years, almost three-quarters of a century after the first major episodes of stifling smog tainted Los Angeles metropolitan-area air.
It was a problem then (in 1943). It was likewise a problem in 1987-’88 when I lived and worked in nearby Long Beach (a major port and oil-refining area) and it’s still a problem today.
But, these and other air-quality related problems there and elsewhere, unless these are recognized as being serious, severe, you get the idea, threatening lives and seen as presenting a clear-and-present danger on the order of the methane-gas leak at Aliso Canyon (also in southern California) as it was on the neighboring community of Porter Ranch between Oct. 2015 and Feb. 2016 (when the well leak was plugged), my suspicion is, polluted air will be seen as little more than a paltry nuisance for the bulk of the populace, and not a real issue in most people’s lives – the kind that really matters, that is.
Is it the same regarding global warming and climate change? Which, by the way, is a discussion for a different day.
Article updated on June 6, 2017 at 8:01 and then again at 8:28 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
Image above: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration