Addressing the air-pollution crisis: Chalking up wins where we can

When the interested Conference of the Parties (COP) attendees head off to these annual global climate-change networking summits, they, for the most part, I would think, have open minds, their hoping, their expecting that, by the time the conference concludes, they will come away with something to show for all the time, energy and hard work invested, and that that time, energy and work put forth wasn’t wasted. As such, they then leave confident that whatever solution was arrived at and agreed to by attendees will not only be followed through on subsequent to when they get back home, but that the climate corrective actions implemented will have a positive atmospheric and/or environmental impact and make a big difference.

That it does, when it does, fantastic! When it doesn’t, the important thing is not to give up and then upon returning the following year, build on whatever progress was made the previous year and restart from there. In other words, forge ahead.

Take the case, for example, of trying to get a high-speed rail operation built in the United States. As one of the state’s biggest infrastructure programs ever, the California high-speed rail endeavor for years met with opposition, staunch opposition at times. “It’s too expensive to build,” “funds to cover the cost of construction will be insufficient,” “people won’t ride it,” “it’s a train to nowhere,” all became familiar refrains.

As it turned out, Proposition 1A (the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century) passed at the polls 52 to 48 percent in Nov. 2008. Fourteen years later, construction is ongoing on the Central Valley portion at over 30 sites. Once completed, HSR will connect the city pairs of Bakersfield-Merced with additional in-between stops at the Tulare/Kings, Fresno and Madera stations covering a distance of 171 miles, initially. Trains in this territory will be limited to a maximum operating speed of 220 mph.

Beyond this, and according to plan, service is to one day extend north to San Francisco and south to Los Angeles and Anaheim with planned later extensions to Sacramento and San Diego, for a combined distance of 800 miles with a possible 24 stations total served.

When up and running, California HSR will offer a viable travel alternative to airline, motor vehicle and conventional passenger-train travel between the state’s major metropolis’, where applicable.

And, it gets better. The train, because it is to be electric (the supply generated renewably rather than through the burning of fossil fuels), the result of that will be comparatively few pollutants produced. Patrons riding, those switching from other modes, meanwhile, presumably, translates into fewer aviation- and road-based trips being taken and, if that transpires, that means potentially less in the way of airway and roadway congestion. These efficiencies and others, if realized, will result in savings, be they economic, energy or environmental or a combination of any two or possibly all three.

And, speaking of energy, it’s another area that warrants paying particularly close attention to.

Not so very long ago, as much as 60 percent of our energy demands were met by producing electricity from the burning of fossil coal. Today that coal amount has been cut in half. Moreover, some utilities or power plants have become more or totally reliant on cleaner fossil fuels like natural gas.

Then there is hydroelectric power, geothermal and renewables. As to the last, solar, wind, tide or wave, dominate. Add to all of these microgrid systems.

Each, though, have limitations. For solar, think lack of available sunlight or in the case of wind, absence of or minimal breezes. Couple this with the difficulty in storing unused solar or wind power generated. Add to this the losses inherent in electrical distribution lines that occur from sending electricity over long distances between, say, power plant and the residential user.

But for any of these deficits, there are obvious workarounds, like the option of electricity consumers seeking alternate solutions such as on-premises solar-photovoltaic or wind-turbine systems be they leased or purchased outright. The solar solution especially over the past couple of decades has experienced leaps-and-bounds growth.

Finally, microgrid power, like the name implies, serves the power needs of neighborhoods or entire communities.

By no means are these the only wins there are. There are far more than what’s presented here and the ones listed provide a good representation, this done, of course, for illustrative purposes. Proof positive that progress in this regard has been – and continues to be – made. We’ll take the wins where we can!

– Alan Kandel

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Last updated on Jan. 10, 2023 at 6:20 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.