Archive for the ‘photochemcial smog’ Category

The People’s Republic of Chemicals … the antecedents

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

PRC Prelim Cover

* From Bill’s second of three articles in advance of the book for Inside Climate News.

China’s plans to build remote industrial coal complexes to power its economy are putting the country on a   trajectory to wipe out global gains in tackling climate change, scientists fear. But other nations share responsibility for China’s fossil fuel binge and the toxic air people breathe as a result—especially the United States. China’s pollution scourge has its roots in trade agreements set in motion by President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s that allowed U.S. companies to take advantage of cheap labor and lax environmental standards in the world’s most populous nation—where coal energy reigns supreme. Many times the United States helped China finance dirty sources of energy. As much as one-third of China’s carbon load on the atmosphere can be traced to exports of cheap clothes, electronics, machinery and other goods consumed by Americans and Europeans, experts say. And while free trade to the West has made China’s economy boom, Chinese people have paid dearly due to the resulting smog from factories and coal-fired power plants. “We made a big mistake” by not including environmental safeguards in trade policies with China, said Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s chief trade negotiator and later Secretary of Commerce. Now a practicing attorney in Los Angeles with expertise in international relations, Kantor has been shuttling back and forth between the United States and China in one capacity or another for 20 years. He calls China’s air “a disaster” and says that each time he visits “it’s worse.” …

* Bill’s first piece for ICC about China’s greenhouse-gas-busting plans to erect otherworldly-sized coal bases in the hinterlands was a blockbuster that we greatly expand on in The People’s Republic of Chemicals. Here’s a snippet.

The biggest coal base is Shenhua’s Ningdong Energy and Chemical Industry Base in Ningxia, about 700 miles west of Beijing. Conceived in 2003, Shenhua said it broke ground in 2008 on the 386-square-mile coal base. That’s an area about three-quarters the size of Los Angeles that’s being covered bit by bit over a period of some 17 years with coal mines, power plants, power lines, pipelines, roads, rail tracks and all manner of chemical processing plants with their towers, smokestacks and tanks.

* Other environmental headlines worth noting.

-  ”Air Pollution May Double Risk of Autism, USC Study Concludes,” KPCC

… Researchers reviewed the records of more than 500 children — about half of whom were considered to be normally developing and half of whom were diagnosed with autism, a complex set of brain disorders characterized by problems with social interactions and communications. “In particular for traffic pollution we found children exposed to [the] highest amount of pollution relative to the lowest were at a two-to-threefold increased risk for autism,” says Heather Volk, a researcher for the Keck School of Medicine of USC and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, who led the study …

 -  ”Algae Converted to Crude Oil in Less Than An Hour, Energy Department Says,” NBC News

The day when planes, trucks and cars are commonly revved up on pond scum may be on the near horizon thanks to a technological advance that continuously turns a stream of concentrated algae into bio-crude oil. From green goo to crude takes less than an hour. The goo contains about 10 percent to 20 percent algae by weight. The rest is water. This mixture is piped into a high-tech pressure cooker where temperatures hover around 660 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures of 3,000 pounds per square inch in order to keep the mixture in a liquid phase. Inside the cooker are “some technology tricks that other people don’t have” that help separate the plant oils and other minerals such as phosphorous from the water, Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., explained to NBC News. An hour after being poured into the cooker, gravity separates the crude oil from the water as it flows out the other end. “We can clean up that bio-crude and make it into liquid hydrocarbons that could well serve to displace the gas, diesel, and jet (fuel) that we make from petroleum now,” he added …


In Advance of Our New Book, We Gotta Give the Credit to the Prophetic (Gary – that’s you!)

Monday, March 3rd, 2014


The People’s Republic of Chemicals, our sequel to the critically acclaimed Smogtown, will be out this fall through Rare Bird Books. It’s a different type of Chinese environmental book, one that weaves in history, foreign occupations, “Cancer Villages,” bitter truths about Clinton-Gore globalization, toxic riots, stomach-churning health statistics and a whole lot of climate chaos, especially from breakneck coal-burning. Another element we’re stoked about including involves so-called Trans-Pacific Drift of Asian-borne dust and pollution that floats across the ocean to swamp the West Coast, with increasing frequency. One of the first publications to write about it was Science Daily in 1998. But among the maiden mainstream newspaper folk, you can’t beat former Los Angeles Times environmental reporter Gary Polakovic, a man whose chops treading where few others had need little embellishment. Check out what Gary wrote in 2002, years and years before scientists had their knickers in a bunch over what their test data is revealing. Link.

Wind-borne pollution from China and neighboring countries is spreading to California and other parts of the nation and Canada as a result of surging economic activity and destructive farming practices half a world away, according to new scientific studies. The research shows that a mix of pollutants, from dust to ozone to toxic chemicals, travels farther than once realized. Federal air quality officials fear that the foreign-born pollution will complicate efforts to cut smog and haze, and make it more difficult to meet federal air quality standards in California and other parts of the West. Although most of the pollutants are similar to ones already found in North America, they do add to health concerns by slightly increasing year-round concentrations of gases and tiny particles in the air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During peak winds, however, dust and smoke levels can approach or exceed health-based standards. Federal scientists, too, are beginning to probe the dust for bacteria and viruses that may be attached. The made-in-China label on haze over North America is partly due to increased productivity of consumer goods ranging from patio furniture to CDs to toys. But it also is a result of deforestation, over-grazing and intensive cultivation of fragile soils. Researchers at universities on both sides of the Pacific have been tracking the haze for a number of years along its 6,000-mile journey, using satellites and aircraft, land-based sensors and computer models. In one severe dust storm in spring 1998, particle pollution levels in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia soared. In Seattle, air quality officials could not identify a local source of the pollution, but measurements showed that 75% of it came from China, researchers at the University of Washington found. ”A larger fraction of the haze we see is Asian, far more than we ever dreamed,” said Tom Cahill, professor of atmospheric science and physics at UC Davis. “We’re a small world. We’re all breathing each other’s effluent.” … 

All we can to Gary is 1) you don’t how right you were, and; 2) thanks.

People’s Republic of Chemicals – Preparing for liftoff

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014


- Bill Kelly and I are pleased to announce that the sequel to Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, (Penguin Group USA/The Overlook Press – 2008) will be out this fall by Rare Bird Books. The title is set. It’s The People’s Republic of Chemicals. We’re beyond excited. Also this year, Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers, one of the largest outfits of its kind, will be printing an edition of Smogtown in Mandarin. Here, again, is us talking about Asia’s deplorable air quality and its connections to L.A. on CCTV America, China’s state-owned equivalent of CNN International.

- As part of our pre-launch, Bill is writing a series of China-related articles for Inside Climate News, the environmental New Media site that won the Pulitzer. His first installment, which covered China’s blueprint to erect massive coal plants that could throw climate change over the edge, was popular to put it mildly. Here’s a little leg:

China is erecting huge industrial complexes in remote areas to convert coal to synthetic fuel that could make the air in its megacities cleaner. But the complexes use so much energy that the carbon footprint of the fuel is almost double that of conventional coal and oil, spelling disaster for earth’s climate, a growing chorus of scientists is warning. Efforts by China to develop so-called “coal bases” in its far-flung regions have received scant attention beyond the trade press, but scientists watching the effort say it could cause climate damage that eclipses worldwide climate protection efforts. The facilities, which resemble oil refineries, use coal to make liquid fuels, chemicals, power and “syngas,” which is like natural gas but extracted from coal. The fuels and electricity are then transported to China’s big cities to be burned in power plants, factories and cars. Currently 16 coal base sites are being built and many are operational. One being constructed in Inner Mongolia will eventually occupy nearly 400 square miles—almost the size of the sprawling city of Los Angeles …

- Don’t blame the aliens for this one – a radiation leak in New Mexico. From the L.A. Times:

The Energy Department suspended normal operations for a fourth day at its New Mexico burial site for defense nuclear waste after a radiation leak inside salt tunnels where the material is buried. Officials at the site, known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, activated air filters as a precaution and barred personnel from entering the 2,150-foot-deep repository as they investigate what caused the leak. Radiation sensors sounded alarms at 11:30 p.m. Friday, when no workers were in the underground portions of the plant. Officials at the site discounted any effect on human health, saying no radiation escaped to the surface. But they said little about the extent of the problem or how it could be cleaned up.”Officials at WIPP continue to monitor the situation,” spokeswoman Deb Gill said. “We are emphasizing there is no threat to human health and the environment. How long the repository would be closed and the effects on the defense nuclear cleanup program were unclear …

- Drought solution or bank buster, desalinization is not some ivory tower concoction. It may be how we survive climate change. From NBC News

Besieged by drought and desperate for new sources of water, California towns are ramping up plans to convert salty ocean water into drinking water to quench their long-term thirst. The plants that carry out the high-tech “desalination” process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there may be few other choices for the parched state. Where the Pacific Ocean spills into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., construction is 25 percent complete on a $1 billion project to wring 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from the sea and pour it into a water system that serves 3.1 million people. Desalination was a dreamy fiction during the California Water Wars of the early 20th century that inspired the classic 1974 movie “Chinatown.” In the 1980s, however, the process of forcing seawater through reverse osmosis membranes to filter out salt and other impurities became a reliable, even essential, tool in regions of the world desperate for water. The process, however, is energy intensive and thus expensive, making it practical only in places where energy is cheap, such as the oil-rich Middle East. But recent technological advances in membrane materials and energy recovery systems have about halved the energy requirements for desalination, giving the once cost-prohibitive technology a fresh appeal in a state gripped with fear that it may be in the early stages of a decades-long mega-drought. ”I think it will turn out that it is very affordable compared to not having the water here in Southern California, particularly with the drought that we are facing and the fact that the governor has just cut off the flow of water from north to south in the aqueduct, the State Water Project,” Randy Truby, the comptroller for the International Desalination Association, an industry advocate, told NBC News. The multibillion dollar State Water Project is a complex conveyance system that brings water from the wetter northern part of the state to farms, industry, and people in the thirsty south. In times of drought, such as now, banking on that water is a risky bet …






Book awards and beyond Smogtown … heading east.

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

* Riffing off the old SNL spoof of Cuban baseball players speaking Spanglish with a microphone thrust in front of them after a big game, may I say the Southern California Book Festival ”haz been berry, berry good to me.” My last book, The Vicodin Thieves: Biopsying L.A.’s Grifters, Gloryhounds and Goliaths, won first place for best compilation/anthology. My book previous to that, the Fargo-esque, true-crime thriller, The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman, also made the non-fiction winner’s circle. Blushing here.

* In 2008, environmental writer William J. Kelly and I collaborated to co-author Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. We had no idea just how popular it’d become. Next year, its sequel will be published, and like Freddie Mercury once sang, it’s guaranteed to blow your mind.” Think over the horizon to the “factory of the world.”

* Speaking of  Smogtown, here’s some recent miscellany: KCET – Breathe Deep and then thank the EPA that you can710 Study San Rafael Neighborhood, Sunroom Desk, Daily Bulletin: Battles Won But War On Smog Is Far From – Barrack Obama Said When He Went To College, The Pollution Was So Bad ‘Folks Couldn’t Go Outside”

* California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill requiring Caltrans to sell all properties along the unbuilt Long Beach (710) Freeway through the El Sereno section of Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena … after decades of wrangling, debate, state-slumlord management, devil-worshipping, vandalizing, squatting, bureaucratic resistance, Kafka-esque moments, citizen revolts and a gazillion newspaper exposes, including by yours truly starting in 1995 with Richard Winton for The Los Angeles Times. Glacial paced, some reform is better that none for the hundreds of folks left hanging by a surface freeway dead and buried before the first shovel of dirt was scooped. New freeways in the global warming age perhaps are non-startrers now. Not only would the 710 create far worse traffic, we now know how highways like it ghetto-ize communities and foster generations of sick people breathing toxic fumes. Now I’ll get down off my soap box.

Get while it’s hot. Chip’s latest book is a collection of his top narrative and investigative articles. May we present “The Vicodin Thieves: Biopsying L.A.’s Grifters, Gloryhounds and Goliaths” More new projects on the way.

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

In this stories collection 23-years-in-the-making, you’ll find 29 articles on a sumptuous basket of subjects originally published in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Los Angeles Daily News, L.A. Weekly and other publications. Hold on for the unexpected and the maddening, the heartbreaking and the mystifying. The feature, investigative and opinion pieces here by Chip Jacobs range from Tommy Koulax’s litigious, chili-cheese hamburger empire, Lockheed’s super-secret Skunk Works defense plant and the deadly, 1913-accident during construction of Pasadena’s famous Colorado Street Bridge, to the hazy, first casualty of Operation Desert Storm, chromium-6 pollution outrages, violent bus drivers and profiles of Southern California political heavyweights Richard Riordan, Danny Bakewell and Richard Alatorre, among others. Vicodon Thieves, which draws its name from a Los Angeles Times feature about pharmaceutical burglars who prey on medicine cabinets at real estate open houses, also includes expanded articles about a high-flying, smog-emissions broker who fell in with shadowy, ex-CIA and military-intelligence operatives bent to “repatriate” forgotten U.S. government aid from around the globe, and the unsolved, execution-style murder of one of suburbia’s most electrifying young mayors blocks from his childhood home. Two new stories grace this compendium, as well. One explores the prodigal life of an early, Universal Pictures director (the author’s great uncle, Nat Ross) gunned down in 1941 by a sociopathic drifter, who’d die in the San Quentin Gas Chamber for his crime. A pair of photographs of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., likely captured hours before he was assassinated in the kitchen of Los Angeles’ old Ambassador Hotel, inspires another original narrative. Few outside of the most ardent of Kennedyphiles probably realize how close RFK came to not being there the night America’s trajectory changed forever, or the cursed, Hollywood enmeshment to his final days. Published by Rare Bird Books  /  /  Barnes & Noble

An October Smogtown treat: The story of a how a vaunted California scientist proved with mice that air pollution was not the cancer-making boogeyman that some believed it was. Murray Gardener dusts of the technical cobwebs to reveal a forgotten study of counter-intuism and coincidences.

Monday, October 1st, 2012

I am motivated to write this piece for the L.A. Smogtown Blog by the following events. I am a retired Professor of Pathology at the University of California Davis. As I was preparing to give a seminar on my first research project, which concerned the biologic effects of Los Angeles smog on the incidence of mouse lung tumors, I came across Ross Caballero’s blog on the Internet. Ross drew attention to the considerable “hype” in the Los Angeles Times in 1963-1964 concerning a huge research project to be carried out by the University of Southern California School of Medicine, the now-defunct Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District and the U.S. Public Health Services studying the long-term effect of ambient LA air on thousands of lab mice housed near L.A. freeways. But Ross, despite a diligent search, could find no follow-up reports in the L.A. Times or lay press presenting the results of this study. Eventually, he tracked down the only scientific paper summarizing these results, which were unanticipated, as I will describe below, because I was the author of the paper. I contacted Ross, who told me about the Smogtown book, which I greatly enjoyed, and he put me in contact with Chip Jacobs. He invited me to submit this short article to his and co-author’s air pollution blog.

Of Men and Mice: In June 1963, I finished my resident training in pathology at the University of California San Francisco. Seeking an academic career, I was offered an Assistant Professorship at USC School of Medicine. They desperately needed a pathologist to examine microscopically the lungs and other organs of the experimental mice that were exposed to urban L.A. air. The project had already been designed, funded and started by others before I got there. The main investigator of the project was Paul Kotin. He had shown that lab mice exposed for some months to a synthetic atmosphere of ozonized gasoline developed an increased incidence of lung tumors, called pulmonary adenomas, compared to control mice breathing filtered air. In addition, a few mice exposed to both ozonized gasoline and influenza virus developed pulmonary lesions resembling squamous cell carcinoma. At this time (and today) there was considerable concern about the potential adverse health effects of urban air pollution on humans including, of course, lung cancer. Kotin left USC in 1963 to become the Director of an Environmental Institute at the U.S. National Institute of Health and I was recruited to carry out the mouse lung pathology survey that he had started. I will describe briefly the rationale for the project, how the study was done and its results and interpretation.

Why it Mattered:  In 1963, an extensive background of epidemiological and biological evidence supported the contention that urban air pollution might contribute to the development of lung cancer. The potential carcinogenicity of many polycyclic hydrocarbons present in L.A. smog, largely absorbed on particulate matter, was well recognized. Of increasing concern, however, were a new group of substances such as oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbon vapors that occurred in automobile exhaust gasses under the influence of ultraviolet light to generate a great variety of oxidation products such as ozone and other intermediates, largely unidentified. High concentrations of this photochemical smog often occurring in the L.A. Basin resulted in material and agricultural damage and exerted an irritant effect upon human respiratory and ocular mucous membranes. Although a lung-tumor-promoting activity of L.A. urban air had not been demonstrated in humans, there was statistical evidence that residence in ambient air was associated with an increased susceptibility to pulmonary infections. It seemed quite logical therefore to wonder whether sustained exposure to ambient L.A. air might also have a causative role in chronic lung diseases, in particular carcinoma. The politics and public health concern surrounding this question, approaching hysteria in some quarters of L.A. County in 1963, are well covered in Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. Experimental investigation of lung tumorgenicity had long been handicapped by the infrequency of spontaneous or inducible lung tumor in species other than mice or humans. Furthermore, the mouse lung tumors were quite different in their origin (alveolar cells) and biologic behavior (indolent, benign) than the usual human lung tumor. Nevertheless, considerable prior research attested to the validity of using this biological system for gauging lung tumorgenicity. As mentioned, Kotin’s research showing an increased incidence of these lung tumors (pulmonary adenomas) in mice after prolonged exposure to ozonized gasoline (constant levels of ozone 10-100 times above transient peak levels in L.A. smog) and possible carcinoma after added co-exposure to influenza virus was the catalyst for the present investigation to assess the lung tumorigenic potency in mice of pollutants occurring under natural conditions in L.A. ambient air.


Scary tidings in the greens of summer 2012

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

* Whatever one thinks about combating climate change with a market-based “cap-and-trade” for greenhouse gases, we highly recommend watching this highly-polished, if over-simplified video that raises legitimate concerns about whether monetizing environmentalism is better than a simple tax as the world tries to save itself from our collective emissions.

* Chinese city blanketed in an unknown haze … gosh, maybe it’s the “straw burning” and not epidemic smog. From Yahoo! News

“Young and old residents of the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan were advised to stay indoors on Monday after a thick haze blanketed the city of nine million people, official media said. Described by residents as opaque with yellowish and greenish tinges, the fug descended suddenly in the morning, prompting people to rush to put on face masks, witnesses told AFP. The official Xinhua news agency quoted the environmental protection department of Hubei province saying in a statement: “Children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory diseases are advised to stay indoors.” Xinhua said straw burning was the cause and denied there had been any industrial accidents in or near Wuhan, after Internet rumours suggested there had been an explosion at a chemical complex northeast of the city …”

* On a related note, the Chinese oligarchs sure don’t like our American smog-monitors. From MSNBC

“ ”Senior Chinese official demanded on Tuesday that foreign embassies stop issuing air pollution readings, saying it was against the law and diplomatic conventions, in pointed criticism of a closely watched U.S. Embassy index …  Many residents dismiss the common official readings of “slight” pollution in Beijing as grossly under-stated. The U.S. Embassy posts hourly air-quality data on its popular Twitter feed,the U.S.-funded Voice of America explains. Using data from a monitoring point on the embassy roof, the feed was set up in 2009 following widespread complaints that official government readings were understating pollution levels in the smog-filled capital city, the VoA reported …”

* The $68-billion California Bullet Train was already contentious, a massive public works project the pubic is deeply divided over no matter the federal government’s exuberance for it, when air quality and species endangerment questions reared their pesky heads. From the L.A. Times:

” … Among the most difficult issues will be air quality, which is regulated across eight counties by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The district worries that the construction project would exacerbate already problematic levels of nitrogen oxides, particulates and volatile compounds. The district already bears an annual $29-million federal fine for violating the Clean Air Act, a burden levied on businesses and motorists, who must pay higher annual vehicle fees. Without its approval, the California High-Speed Rail Authority cannot sink a shovel into the ground, said Samir Sheikh, the district’s director of strategies and incentives.”We have an air quality problem that cannot tolerate an increase in emissions,” he said. In the Fresno Unified School District, 10,045 students — 1 out of every 7 — have been diagnosed with asthma, according to data provided by the school district. Many experts believe poor air quality acts as a trigger. Children in the valley carry inhalers with their books and lunches. On bad air days, emergency rooms see a significant increase in residents having asthma attacks, according to district figures. Hospitalizations, lost work days and premature deaths, among other effects, cost $5.7 billion annually, a 2008 Cal State Fullerton study found …”

* If nothing catches your environmental eye except one story this summer, let it be this one that sinks into your soul as you re-imagine the world. The title is horrific:  ”EARTH MAY BE REACHING A TIPPING POINT, SCIENTISTS WARN.” From the L.A. Times:

“A group of international scientists is sounding a global alarm, warning that population growth, climate change and environmental destruction are pushing Earth toward calamitous — and irreversible — biological changes. In a paper published in Thursday’s edition of the journalNature, 22 researchers from a variety of fields liken the human impact to global events eons ago that caused mass extinctions, permanently altering Earth’s biosphere. ”Humans are now forcing another such transition, with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” wrote the authors, who are from the U.S., Europe, Canada and South America. If current trends continue — exploding global population, rapidly rising temperatures and the clearance of more than 40% of Earth’s surface for urban development or agriculture — the planet could reach a tipping point, they say. ”The net effects of what we’re causing could actually be equivalent to an asteroid striking the Earth in a worst-case scenario,” the paper’s lead author, Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, said in an interview. “I don’t want to sound like Armageddon. I think the point to be made is that if we just ignore all the warning signs of how we’re changing the Earth, the scenario of losses of biodiversity — 75% or more — is not an outlandish scenario at all …”

* Climate change depression, version 4.0, with the warmest spring on record. MSNBC


* COVERAGE OF CHIP’S LATEST BOOK, The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman,

Why is Civic Activism and Journalism Legal and Who was Jerry Schneiderman? - KCET, June 11, 2012

Author interview for The Ascension of Jerry This American Wife web radio, June 8, 2012


Governor Jerry Brown Can Do More to Green Up California

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Anyone following the listing giant we call California might have noticed that the Chicken Littles have once again hoarded the microphones for their narrative of downsized expectations.

Except for taxes and pensions, few subjects leave them as screechy as the bottomless environmental ethic they blame for pushing demoralized residents out of state in search of common sense, not taxes on supermarket plastic bags.

How can Governor Jerry Brown support a billion-dollar blueprint to lop emissions of greenhouse gases while foreclosure ghost towns sink California cities such as Stockton and San Bernardino, naysayers ask? Why is Brown, whose quixotic liberalism won him the Governor Moonbeam moniker during his first stint in office in the 1970s, suing to curb sprawl when thestate unemployment rate is near 11 percent and the budget gap is $16 billion?

Because, they hypothesize, a future with social engineering that favors a low-polluting, electric-car lifestyle over lunch- pail jobs is Brown’s naked agenda. Because bellwether stewardship of reasonable protections for clean air and water a generation ago have transmogrified today into policy zealotry about to collapse under its own biodegradable hubris. Beyond Facebook andGoogle (GOOG), the West Coast spirit of innovation is withering. A business climate that once nourished oil giants, defense juggernauts, agribusiness and the country’s smartest entrepreneurs has died off faster than dial-up. Look at the latest population numbers showing that since 1980 four million more people have left California than have come in from other states.

Fighting Smog

This story line of a Green Hulk run amok in a state whose economy is in the top-10 in the world would be essential reading, an SOS even, if only our past didn’t trample it.

In 1955, a dozen years into the Los Angeles campaign to eradicate eye-watering smog, air pollution generals realized they needed an emergency plan in case ozone and other airborne poisons approached life-strangling levels. (A year before, a frighteningly thick haze led officials to seal the harbor, redirect planes from the airport and deploy the California Highway Patrol in case of evacuation.)

Industrialists, embittered by years of being scapegoated for pollution that mainly puffed from cars, revolted against this crisis planning, including a last-gasp contingency that they idle their plants for days to let the atmosphere cleanse itself.

An executive of Richfield Oil Co. announced that its refinery would only halt operations on written orders from the Air Pollution Control District. If the shutdown was later found to have been overkill, Richfield expected the district to write it a check for lost income.

Hollywood, meantime, desired a return of blue skies for its backdrops. The chemical air was costing showbiz millions. “Every morning before we leave the studio we say a few Indian prayers that the smog will have blown away,” said an actor in the Western drama “Brave Eagle,” filmed in the San Fernando Valley in the mid-1950s.

So they all vamoosed, right, showbiz and Big Oil, to Seattle or Phoenix or Kansas City, where breathing wasn’t painful and where regulations were relatively pain-free? No! In the murky 1950s, roughly 100 polluting industries a year relocated to Southern California. Behind them caravans of family station wagons entered the state, with occupants dreaming of jobs. By the time of the first Earth Day in 1971, with every car, truck and smokestack in California under the sternest regulations on the planet, the populace had doubled, to 20 million, since 1950.

Voter Support

The defense companies, whose many smokestacks and machines disgorged any number of scary chemicals, remained as well. Fine- print-loving bureaucrats didn’t crush their business. Superpower peace eventually did much of that.

Today, 40 million souls live in California, not all of them heel-clicking, but few packing their suitcases with green- migraine syndrome, either. Even during the Great Recession, when manufacturing swooned, Californians trounced by an edge of 2 to 1 a 2010 ballot initiative to delay the state’s global warming law until the jobless rate dropped.

This is not to suggest that all companies adore inspections, permitting and fees, or are embracing carbon markets. But CEOs certainly know, if only in the abstract, that the estimated $28 billion in health costs from dirty air would explode to gargantuan levels without rules on the books. That’s why they are CEOs, not window-washers.

No, the trouble isn’t the existing green ethic. Only about 50,000 out of more than 7 million homes in the state have solar panels. The problem is a lack of leadership imagination. Brown & Co., for all their gallant intentions, have yet to inspire Californians by connecting environmental problems with what could be a rejuvenating, self-sustaining economy that electrifies California cleanly while shopping its products to an energy-parched globe.

At a speech to 200 energy experts at University of California, Los Angeles, last summer, Brown floated a goal of the state creating enough clean local energy to support 3 million homes. Developing those 12 gigawatts is “going to take all manner of investment, risk taking and collaboration,” he said. Some idea of collaboration! Instead of chin-wagging inside a university lecture hall, Brown should park a Prius in front of small-business leaders and just about anybody he can buttonhole, to solicit their ideas.

About 430,000 Californians, or roughly 4 percent of wage- earners here, work in clean-energy production, new-generation batteries, recycling and green education. Brown should be hollering that we must do better.

In Perspective

Yet, too often, the skeptics are doing the talking about our eco-obsessions as if they were the indulgences of an insufferable diva. Remember Solyndra, the solar-panel maker that went belly up, despite a half-billion dollars in federal support? Tell me which is more vital for our national security: public investments to harness solar rays in a world bloodied by oil, or the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor project, where each jet fighter is estimated to be $269 million over budget, meaning that overspending on two of them exceeds the taxpayer loss for Solyndra?

Just as the state once engineered carbon-graphite bombers during the Cold War, Brown 2.0 should man the bully pulpit to speak directly to average Californians. The UCLAs and NRG Energies and Wal-Marts of the world can book the messianic one another time.

With an honest spirit of green invention, perhaps some of those who left the state will flip a U-turn, plugging their ears to the opinionated cluckers on the drive home.

Bloomberg View link to Op-Ed

“The Ascension of Jerry” book coverage and May environmental news of note

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

“Jerry Schneiderman: The Rabble-Rouser you’ve never head about but should know” - L.A. Weekly, May 22, 2012. Author Q&A

Jerry Schneiderman was not your ordinary real estate developer. For years, he was a rabble rouser who took on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority after tunneling for the Red Line subway collapsed parts of Hollywood Boulevard.”You can never stop a government public works project entirely,” Schneiderman told me last summer for the L.A. Weekly cover story “Beverly Hills Versus the Westside Subway.” But “you can starve it.” Schneiderman died in December 2011, but years earlier, in 1979, his business partner had been murdered by a hit man. Schneiderman was never the same, and was always on the lookout for his own safety. Los Angeles journalist Chip Jacobs has written a gripping book about Schneiderman’s story – The Ascension of Jerry – which took years to research and write. Jacobs and I recently talked about Schneiderman, who struck up a friendly working relationship with me back in the late 1990s…

L.A. Weekly: I talked with Jerry a few months before he died. He said you were working on a book with him for years. Why did you decide you wanted to spend so much time and write a book on a man the average person has never heard of?

Chip Jacobs: Having written only about a half-dozen crime stories during the course of my career, I had no outward business devoting myself to a book about a whacked murder triangle in ’79 L.A. — one bubbling out of real estate greed — that scared Jerry so badly. I might as well have applied to the Navy SEALs, experience-wise.

But the more I learned about his past, not just the spectacle of lame hit men and violent, blue-collar embitterment in an angry age reminiscent of today, the more I realized that people who survived such terrible ordeals frequently had no one who’d believe their psychic damage and few avenues to release it.

So though Jerry was hardly a household name, even during his prolific political shenanigans of the 1990s, the dark pain fueling his activism was extraordinary, if not gigantically entertaining. Come on: a brilliant, former space planner-turned-developer-turned-civic-prankster dressing up like a corpulent councilwoman, or spreading rumors of a vapory creature busting the MTA for subway safety violations. Jerry was unique and invisible all at once, perfect, too, because he was a smirking contradiction …

Also about The Ascension of Jerry …

“Author Chip Jacobs details Jerry Schneiderman Murder Triangle in New Book” - KCBS-KCAL TV, May 17, 2012 Author Chip Jacobs visited the KCAL9 studios Thursday to talk about his new non-fiction murder mystery book, The Ascension Of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman.

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And now for some things completely environmental 






Smogtown heartily welcomes Chinese air pollution researchers to the site.

Monday, April 30th, 2012


One of the non-profit Asia Society’s most poignant acts was photographing the same spot in the capital so outsiders can judge for themselves  what’s happening, at least visually. An air pollution index illuminates what the eyes can’t. A big part of the site is devoted to what occurred during the Olympics, when Chinese authorities recreated their own Potemkin Village to delude the world they’d gotten a handle on air pollution. The effort failed miserably.

Notice that much of the new information here halted right around the Olympics. You can go to the government’s Ministry of Environment for their spin. We’ll have much later. For now, we’re ecstatic that the Asia Society made contact here in the original Smogtown cooker – Los Angeles, California.