Keeping it all in perspective: Air quality

All of 19 years young at the time, in Sept. 1972, this is when I first made my way to the Golden State – California.

Go West!

A year before making my Maryland exit – Maryland had been home for my first twenty years – I headed west on vacation, destination: Los Angeles (LAX), Anaheim (Disneyland) and then San Francisco (Chinatown). It was a lot to absorb. The experience was as much an education as it was enjoyable.

I’ve never seen such excitement on the faces of the many people piling on the City by the Bay’s Cable Car. A trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without seeing or riding these quaint trolleys. There is much to be said of and for this means of transportation.

Some 400 miles to the south, in Sept. ’72, Los Angeles area-air was burdened with some of the worst smog in history. I ought to know: I was there. I saw it, breathed it, and no doubt felt its effect on my body, though I may not have recognized that last part at the time. It was impossible for the smog to not have had an effect.

A year later, I returned, this time to California to attend college at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (SLO), to pursue a degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. I attended from Sept. ’73 to Mar. ’76 completing the degree program on Mar. 19th, a day before I turned 23. During that two-and-a-half-year stint, as far as weather conditions go, I experienced it all, everything from sun and fog, to rain, hail and snow, the snow, of course, dusting the tops of some of the mountains nearby. But, never once did I ever see polluted air there. I think I was spoiled in that sense.

Performing Arts Center, Cal Poly, SLO

After graduating and returning to Maryland and trying to make a go of it career-wise and failing, I returned to SLO, probably staying six months before setting my sights north on the Silicon Valley in hopes of my landing work. And, it would be on at least one occasion before doing that that I would travel to Fresno where I would make new friends and even though I did not know it then, this would become my future home.

It is in Fresno where upon showing up in the late mornings for work at an audio entertainment store working as this now-defunct chain’s head technician and based in the headquarters building, that upon my arrival I would gaze through the visible haze at the downtown skyline where what I was witnessing started to hit home. I was immersed in and breathing this stuff, yuck!

Even worse was when exercising, because of the deeper and increased rate of breathing associated with the aerobic activity, this amplified its effect.

Most people I see scurry about in their day-to-day affairs seem oblivious to such. No one seems fazed by this in the least. I was only one of a handful of letter writers to The Fresno Bee who would comment on this apparently delicate subject. As best I could tell, the construction of a five or six story tall television antenna going up on Herndon Avenue appeared to matter more to the masses than what air-quality did. I kid you not.

I remember one such writer complaining that the antenna would block from the writer’s view, the Sierra Nevada Mountains off to the east. “What, is this person kidding me?!” I thought. Because of the haze in the air – it was either this or due to foggy or rainy conditions – that those majestic mountains were hidden from view most times of the year. It’s comical the things that get people riled up sometimes. Needless to say, both the antenna and Sierra are doing fine, but if I did not know better with respect to the latter, no way would I ever believe mountains were even there.

But, who these days here pays any notice?

“Air” of uncertainty

I’m pretty sure I know who does. People like myself who make it a point to, doctors, allergists, people in the medical field, those who suffer from respiratory and other health issues caused – or conditions triggered – by pollution, at least, the local and state air regulatory bodies, environmentalists, advocates and activists; yes, there are a bunch of us, even those in media circles.

If I were to conduct a survey, of those interviewed, I surmise 60 to 80 percent would point a finger at transportation as the likely culprit to area air pollution. And, if I were to ask the same for suggestions to lessen transportation’s impact, most would probably say less driving, more vehicles operating with fewer or no emissions, greater usage of public transit, more walking and biking. The standard answers.

One of the responses you would almost never hear I am guessing, at least in California’s San Joaquin Valley, is smarter use of land, farmland and open space preservation, infill and reduced roadway and highway building. It is as if these constructs didn’t exist in the region’s residents’ lexicons, vernacular, vocabularies. And, it’s probably on account of most of the local denizenry’s lack of direct experience with such.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the least important with 10 being the most important, I would want to know just how important air quality is in local’s lives and what people are willing to do, what changes would people be willing to make, for the ability to breathe clean air.

There is one other item I’m curious about: I guess you could say I’m an avid T.V. watcher and when the public service announcements (PSAs) are broadcast pointing out the dangers of smoking, are you getting the picture?, I wonder if PSAs along the lines of those related to health damage done to the body from polluted air, if those kind would get viewers’ attention, more so than those PSAs where seen on screen is a spokesperson promoting the use of public transportation, carpooling, walking or bicycling all the while being shown in the background are puffy white clouds accentuating clear blue skies.

That would make for a worthwhile project, I suspect. Of course, with a survey, we’d know for sure, now wouldn’t we?! Yes indeedy!

Images: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (top); Gregg Erickson (middle); Jo Weber, USGS, (bottom)

– Alan Kandel