Whenever I visit Los Angeles, I consider the sprawl and congestion, but also the amazing vistas and architecture, and think it must have been amazing back in the 1950s. But the book “Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles,” stands as a reminder that well before the famously smoggy 70s, the air there was already blighted. In fact, the Smogtown authors, Chip Jacobs and William Kelly, maintain a great blog on the topic.
Unless you’re a native Los Angelean with at least a few decades under your belt, you probably can’t appreciate how much air quality in the LA basin has improved since the city first started being blanketed in smog in the late 1940s.
This photo, from the Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library, shows (or rather, doesn’t show) the LA Civic Center in 1948:
The Clean Air Act, and a general frustration over the degradation of quality of life in smog-filled areas, ushered in California’s air quality improvements. Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be harder to see or capture on film, and their impacts are less immediately blatant, but the state had become the 12th largest emitter of carbon in the world when Governor Schwarzenegger signed the State’s landmark 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, in 2006.
Will climate change be harder to fight than air pollution? Maybe the better question to ask is: Why should we address the two problems separately?
Researchers at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo (CICERO), say that combining air pollution in tandem with reducing carbon emissions, rather than battling them separately, could “help save cash and encourage developing nations such as China to do more to curb global warming,” according to a Reuters report issued on Wednesday.
International treaties address air quality and climate change as separate issues, even though some substances are both air pollutants and greenhouse gases. During Hillary Clinton’s trip to China next week, climate change is one of the top issues she is expected to address, and in fact she’ll visit an energy-efficient power plant near Beijing that is a joint venture of General Electric and a Chinese partner. This is a great opportunity for her to begin a dialogue with China on how it and the US can begin working together to aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in tandem.
Petter Tollefsen, a CICERO researcher, told Rueters that by combining efforts to improve air quality with those aimed on emissions reductions, countries stand to gain financially through efficiency gains. CICERO claims that the European Union alone could make efficiency gains of 2.8 billion euros ($3.62 billion) a year by 2020 by simultaneously addressing air pollution and climate change.
The researchers say that developing countries could be enticed to combine measures to reduce carbon emissions as well as air pollutants if the benefits to public health and food supplies were better promoted. Air pollution stunts crop growth, while changes in climate lead to more severs whether in the form of droughts and floods, they say.
CICERO is raising this issue now because nearly 200 countries have agreed to work out a successor to the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, the main accord for fighting global warming, by the end of 2009. It would like to see air pollution abatement included in the update to the protocol.
Yet, despite the efficiencies to be gained by a merged approach, it might be much easier said than done. Reuters points out that “some types of air pollution can curb global warming. Some particles emitted by burning fossil fuels reflect sunlight back into space, cooling the planet.”
While that’s a complicating factor, it seems as though a move away from burning fossil fuels solves both problems. What do you think?