Archive for October, 2008

A little Halloween challenge: read Smogtown, let the genre inspire your songwriting itch, and then write lyrics for it based on this catchy Cheap Trick ballad of “Ghost Town.” As you’ll see, Southern California’s eco-crisis spurred some experts to predict whole swaths of the region might become their own Ghost Town because it was too unhealthy to live there.

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Email your lyrics to and we’ll have some fun. It doesn’t have to be more than a verse and a chorus. You can buy Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution on right now.

The winner gets a first edition copy signed by both authors. Interestingly, rumor has it that Robin Zander, Cheap Trick’s lead singer, was a onetime resident resident of hilly, northeast Pasadena, close to all the trospheric chunkiness. We wonder what kind of collaboration would result between them and the punk band, Smogtown. Cheap Trick’s album “In Color” is still one of the slickest albums of its era. Listening to it was a great way to spend an afternoon, when L.A.’s air drove you inside and you just couldn’t take another minute of “Three’s Company.” For those who remember, here’s the website for these talented rock surivors. All those years ago, back in the late 1970s, they were “New Wave” along with the Pretenders, Devo, Blondie & the Talking Heads.

Also, be sure and pick up this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, too, for a sparkling critique of our book by a reviewer who gets it.

Another election, another stab at smogless engines. California has a rich history of marshaling citizen power for the environment.

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Trouble is, nobody can ever really predict what net benefits will result. What if oil prices keep sinking, and Californians slide back toward SUVs and other gas gulpers as they have before in the post-Earth Day, stay-green era? Legendary billionaire Texas oilman-cum-investor-cum-energy-hero is championing Proposition 10 on the Nov. 4 ballot. Under it, the state would borrow $5 billion to invest in alternative energies, notably natural gas, to help wean us off those foreign sources — you know, the ones that tend to drag us into deadly conflict in the Middle East. Pickens certainly has his principles and pocketbook harmonized here: he owns Seal Beach-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. that supplies natural gas to vehicle fleets. Don’t forget that before gas prices soared to the $5/gallon range, “green cars” were the domain of believers and futuroligists. As much as General Motors’ and other carmakers political clout hamstrung California’s effort some years back to introduce electric cars into the consumer mainstream, it was motorists’ overall lack of interest that really killed the notion you could have hundreds of thousands of vehicles humming on something other than the fossil fuel engine.

Using the ballot box as a shock troop to spur whole new ways of thinking and living without poisoining ourselves on our toxic emissions has been a Golden State tradition dating back to the early 1970s. Striving to pressure Detroit’s Big Three (previously the Big Four and now maybe headed to the Big Two) is another state legacy. If you want to understand the context of where we are today with alternative-fueled vehicles and audacious ballot initiatives, our just-released book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, brims with perspective. Or so we hope. In the Internet age, there’s no excuse for ignorance when it comes to election choices. Here’s the official voter guide description of Prop 10: link. Get educated or no bellyaching if the air gets brown-orangish again.

While the stock market tanked and Obama Vs. McCain dominated the media, California, six western states and Canada moved closer to a bold greenhouse gas market

Monday, October 27th, 2008

It is arguably one of the biggest environmental sea-changes we’ve seen in a few decades, and well-worth public scrutiny and political eyeballing. In the campaign to roll back greenhouse gas emissions in California to 1990 levels, we’re relying on the power of green (the greenback that is) to bring more greening than typical rulemaking might accomplish.

From the Los Angeles Times story (link here)

The plan also relies on a complex trading system in which businesses can buy and barter their way out of trimming emissions. Europe has instituted a carbon market, but not without some controversy. And many economists say that a tax on carbon would be a more efficient way to reduce global warming … The initiative comes as studies suggest that climate change is taking a toll on the Western region of the U.S. and Canada. Scientists say that without dramatic cuts in the global burning of fossil fuels, Western states will suffer disproportionately from water shortages, severe wildfires, coastal flooding and species die-offs … The initiative calls for a cap on carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and have been blamed for raising temperatures around the globe. Industries would be granted fixed numbers of permits to pollute under the cap, and they could trade the permits among themselves so that reductions would be achieved in the cheapest way … If the proposed Western carbon market materializes, it would be half the size of Europe’s as U.S. financial markets are in turmoil. Some experts are predicting that the Wall Street meltdown will weaken support for a national cap and trade system because investment banks, which stand to profit from such trading, are among its strongest supporters … “This really ups the ante for Congress and the next administration,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, which is in the final stages of designing California’s climate program. “If all these states and provinces are saying they will actually cut emissions, where is the federal government?” …

Environmentalists applauded the initiative as a good start in addressing global warming, but expressed strong reservations about several key elements … California is moving toward auctioning a majority of greenhouse gas emission permits and using the money in part to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy such as solar and wind power. But officials involved in drafting the regional initiative said that allowing individual states broad discretion was a way to make the initiative more politically palatable in conservative areas … Another controversial aspect of the plan would permit industries to use “offsets” for up to 49% of the emissions they are required to cut. An offset, such as planting trees or capturing landfill emissions, could be cheaper than installing expensive equipment to cut fossil fuel burning or switching to cleaner power.

If this Western North American market gives you deja vu in its reach and its conception, it’s because Southern California rolled out one of the world’s first pollution markets in the early-1990s. Instead of working to diminish carbon dioxide, L.A. smog generals went after oxides of nitrogen and sulfur with RECLAIM. Not coincidentally, some of the same exact concerns environmentalists are expressing about the Western Climate Initiative mimic the ones earlier activists had about RECLAIM. Who should be allowed in the market and how many credits do you allot so encourage pollution reductions, not profiteering or delay? What is the role of oil and power companies? Should permits be given for free, and, lastly, what about the oversight?


Publishers Weekly — you guys got it, and we’re grateful.

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

From the PW review:

Encapsulating deftly the worldview, historical context, and public psychology of Southern Californians over a number of decades, Los Angeles journalists Jacobs and Kelly examine the approaches they’ve made to the region’s chronic pollution issues, many of which presage current, nation-wide trends in both pollution and its “Greening.” With casual language and a cinematic sense of the dramatic, Jacobs and Kelly detail the buildup to the famous orange-brown L.A. smog of the 1950s and ’60s: “Just at that moment, the beast started to evolve… Sometime in the late 1950s, legend had it that a hen laid an egg that L.A. pollution unaccountably turned green.” Highlighting the pioneering people and groups that blazed the trail for the environmental movement, Jacobs and Kelly also explore the progress and setbacks established by policymakers, including a famously conflicted Ronald Reagan. Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist.”

Link: here

Given the state of the world, isn’t there a little kitschy humor in this movie? Besides a pained giggle, there’s some sociology to mine

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

We decided against including cinematic interpretations of ecological damage like this in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, because air pollution is too serious and deadly to think post-apocalytpic, B-horror movies would add much gravitas. But a blog is different. And the early-1970s saw no retreat in Southern California’s demoralizing smog crisis, or air pollution’s crush on other large metropolitan cities around the world. We all know that escapism have political undercurrents. A dermatoligically-challenged space monster, sired by man’s inability to coexist with nature, says something about society’s guilt and fear, about unleashing consequences beyond people’s capacity to beat the monster back whence it came. Godzilla or the catalytic converter — who are you going to trust to get the job done?

From an Internet Movie Database description of this 1971 film …

A pollution monster named Hedorah comes from outer space. First it terrorizes sea, then it goes on land where it encounters the big G. After it’s after the fight with Godzilla it retreats, only to reappear again in a flying form, it’s starts to kill people. Then it takes on it’s final form, that’s when the Big G comes and the battle that decides the fate of the world begins. Written by Spaceroach … By this time, Gojira, defender of the Earth, has become a national phenomenon, akin to the Loch Ness Monster, especially with children, ingrained into the Japanese conciousness. However, the Japanese people still don’t realize that destroying the earth will summon the millennias-old protector. A young boy finds a dangerous monster that thrives on toxic waste that he names Hedorâ, a pun on the Japanese word for sludge, “hedoro.” In his dreams, he wishes for Gojira to defeat Hedorâ and, hopefully, persuade people to stop polluting the earth. Gojira, coincidentally, fights the monster because of the destruction to the environment.

Na-na-na-na-na-na, they say it’s your birthday, na-na-na-na-na-na, it’s my Smog-Day, too, yeah!

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Except, in this case, it was a group of fiery women activists celebrating Los Angeles air pollution’s “Un-Happy 21st Birthday” at the Ambassador Hotel in Nov. 1964. Afton Slade, president of the clever activist powerhouse Stamp Out Smog (SOS) knew how to attract public attention for her cause. Create a dramatic backdrop (Mid-city’s historic Ambassador Hotel), frost the treat (literally) with tasty icing and skull-and-crossbones poignancy, and use the gimmick to lay out the case for urgent action against air pollution on one of its anniversaries. Where Nov., 1943 fits into the arrival of the gray murk we’re not sure. For us, the fumebank rolled in earnest into downtown in July 1943.

Dates aside, the remarkable dent that SOS put in Southern California’s smog crisis, while also germinating the seedling fields of feminism and enviromental awareness, are explored vividly in our new book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, which incidentally debuts on Oct. 14. We tried writing it with a premium on attitude and pop-sociology, and hope you can metaphorically taste Mrs. Slade’s cake (we’re thinking chocolate with a hydrocarbon swirl) by the time you’re done.

This classic picture comes from the Los Angeles Times photo archive held at UCLA’s Special Collections Dept. Terrific, eye-watering stuff there. Link.

Just wondering: what do you give an environmental malevolent that has everything on its big day?

Eye-opening new health study about smog

Friday, October 10th, 2008

It came out of Harvard, where some of the best research on the intersection between epidiemology and air pollution has occurred historically. After examinging 2.7 million deaths through 48 states, researchers at the university’s School of Public Health inserted doubts where they’d been conventional wisdom before: that men were more susceptible to smog’s effects than women. The fairer sex, they found, actually were more vulnerable to ozone pollution, for which Los Angeles’ airshed is notorious, then men, and that African Americans as a class were more sensitive to it than other ethnicities.

From a wider perch, this new assertion shows that despite our hopes and presumption the world knows everything it needs to about air pollution, that environmental golden oldie in an age of preoccupation (and yes, some hysteria) about global warming, we surely don’t know everything. In fact, we may just be at the skin layer of knowledge about it.  Our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, delves deeply into the region’s chemical skies and how doctors and scientists battled a skeptical Establishment convinced air pollution at its essence was a temporary nuissance and not the disease agent we all know it is today. To read the entire MSNBC story, click here.

Without further ado, may be introduce, drumroll please … a wild, vapory story 65 years in the making

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008


Publisher: The Overlook Press/Penguin Group USA.
By Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly
Offical release date: Oct. 14, 2008

Publisher’s Website: click here click here

Reviews blurbage so far:

“Remember those great 1950s horror movies, when some superpowerful creature menaced a city while the citizens panicked, law enforcement officials bumbled, politicians pontificated, and plucky scientists worked at a fever pitch to find something, anything, to kill the monster? That’s pretty much the feel of this remarkably entertaining and informative chronicle of the birth and—so far—inexorable evolution of smog … This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists (including Arie Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist who was “the Elvis of his field”), hapless politicians, and a nebulous biochemical villain who just will not be stopped.”
BOOKLIST (Starred)
“This colorful history of smog in Los Angeles begins in the 1940s and ends with a warning call for action. Self-proclaimed “survivors” of “L.A.’s greatest crisis,” journalist Jacobs (Wheeling the Deal: The Outrageous Legend of Gordon Zahler, Hollywood’s Flashiest Quadriplegic) and California Energy Circuit senior correspondent Kelly  (Home Safe Home: How to Make Your Home Environmentally Safe) … dredge up the story of smog in all its hazy—and sometimes humorous—permutations. … In this tale of underhanded deals, gritty politics, community organizing and burgeoning environmentalism, the corruption is plentiful and the subplots replete with intrigue. Though the timelines are often confusing, the authors offer a zany and provocative cultural history.”

“Hip and lively,” an intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away.” Recommended.