Oppressive is how San Joaquin Valley, California summertime heat can be. Temps of 104, 105, 106, 107 and higher aren’t uncommon. Heat as high as that becomes more than a bit uncomfortable and gets old rather fast the longer those triple-digit temperatures hang around. When that happens, talk about such in these here parts seems to overshadow everything else.
High-temperature condition is only part of the story. The other part, the part that in my opinion mostly goes unspoken and that is most unfortunate in my view, ironically, is a very familiar phenomenon – the phenomenon known as smog.
It isn’t like we who reside here fail to recognize the air-discoloring gas when we see it. After all, smog is as plain as day, and for those who are immersed in such, stares us straight in the face. But, you would think not a single person notices on account of residents going about their business as if the scourge wasn’t there. It is as if smog was an intangible. News flash, people: It’s not. Smog is real.
If you must know, and you do, smog is just as real as the contributing ingredients responsible for the muck’s formation. That’d be: sun, oxides of nitrogen (NOx), hydrocarbons (HC), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and, of course, the high heat that bakes and leads to the corrosive brew in the first place, which is just as real as the internal-combustion-engine-based driving activity and air-conditioner-sourced “fuel” supply which feeds and contributes to smog’s formation as are the human health effects that can and do manifest, like eye irritation, itching or burning; chest tightness or discomfort; coughing; wheezing; shortness of breath; asthma which, in the Valley, is a huge problem. The gaseous substance that smog is, even if causing nary any physical symptoms at all, nevertheless is damaging to delicate tissue in the lung. Smog is not known as a corrosive gas for nothing.
For the uninitiated the Valley acts like a smog incubator and trap. The air can become so concentrated at times with the atmospheric-altering mix, that the quality of Valley air becomes not just unhealthy for sensitive persons, namely people with respiratory and other health issues, the elderly and children alike, but unhealthy for everyone, those who are otherwise healthy. In fact, it was just recently that the Air Quality Index reached an unhealthy 154, four points into the unhealthy-for-all category.
There is nothing good I can say about smog. And, that is as it should be because, frankly, there is nothing good about smog.
Furthermore, without the filtering breezes to blow the crud that smog is out of the air, or the cleansing rain to wash the miasmic mire from the atmosphere (the latter of the two by the way is sorely lacking in the Valley during summer) coupled with the region’s bowl shape in that it is surrounded by mountain ranges on the east, south and west, plus plentiful sun and the oppressively high air temps to boot, therein lies the problem. And, as long as the supply of all of the necessary and collective ingredients is unending, so too will persist smog in the Valley, which, incidentally, the region has become synonymous with.
Funny thing: People who wish to escape the heat (and eyesore smog that is part and parcel of it), have several options to choose from such as retreating to shelter from such indoors; head for the hills (mountains, really) to seek out altitudes which enable those who do to get above the smog line or get away well within a day’s drive to nearby Pacific shores. But, to take advantage of such, means traveling, turning down the thermostat, the very activities that contribute to Valley smog forming. Quite a paradox, a Catch-22, wouldn’t you say?
Then again, there’s that other alternative: stemming the flow of ingredients that lead to Valley ozone formation. That will mean greater use of non- and ultra-low polluting vehicles, embracing practices and programs which produce the same end-result like wind and solar energy system exploitation, smart city growth (infill development) helping to negate or counteract sprawl (the Mariposa housing project in Denver, Colorado comes to mind), the preservation of productive farmland and open spaces. All of this and then some will be required.
Those things that I just mentioned, unfortunately, in California’s San Joaquin Valley are severely lacking. That needs to change.
The $64 million question: Will it?