I came upon this article two weeks on the website for KTLA, a local TV station here in Los Angeles. The title caught my eye – “The difference is astonishing’: Graph shows how much better California smog is now.”
And it turns out that this wasn’t hyperbole. The graph was astonishing.
As the article notes, back in the 1950s, pollution in California – particularly Southern California with 12.5 million people in the Los Angeles metro area, a car culture with little public transportation and sitting in a basin where the smog can sink into – pollution became synonymous with the area. It wasn’t uncommon to have the famous Hollywood sign obscured from view, or to drive over the hill as the San Fernando Valley spread out in front of you, only to have the entire view covered by a low-lying cloud of the smog layer.
The article told a story from the Los Angeles Times in the 1950s when conditions were so terrible that motorcyclists who worked for a blueprint company went to buy gas masks from a military surplus store because of “smog that was so thick they couldn’t see.” The Times added that “The masks worked, too, the men said, making seeing possible and breathing more pleasant.”
But conditions have become drastically different today. Pollution is still a problem, but nowhere near that level. “So what changed?” the KTLA article asks.
Well, the federal government passed the Air Pollution Control Act in 1955 – and then the Clean Air Act was passed in 1963.
Starting in the 1970s, air pollution levels started to fall in L.A., the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere around California and throughout the Southwest.
In fact, after three decades, smog levels actually fell below the national standard of 9 parts per million.
And here’s that graph that shows the astonishing difference.
So, anyone who wants to lambaste environmental laws – or overrule them (thanks, Supreme Court!) or ridicule treehuggers or make fun of snail darters – the reality is that science is an actual thing and not a belief system.
There’s still a lot of improvement that needs to be done, but what a massive way they’ve come.
You can read the whole article here.
If you didn’t see Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, the Main Story was on water and drought, mainly in the Southwest of the United States. It’s very interesting and well-done, has some great material – notably a clip of the Utah governor about how he plans to deal with the drought – along with lots of room for humor.
With all the serious talk now about Climate Change following the hurricane devastation in the Gulf Coast and the disaster flooding in the northeast -- not to mention the crushing wildfires across the West, it would be really appropriate if all the news networks had AL GORE on – and not just on once, but as a regular guest. But even just once would be a step in the right direction.
I mean, seriously, folks, He only won a Nobel Prize for his work on Climate Change. And made a documentary, An Inconvenient Truth about Climate Change that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. And lectures on the subject. And written books on it. And, y'know, is also a former Vice President of the United States.
I admit to being biased about this. But it’s the reason I’m biased that supports fully why I’m right. But then, this is a no-brainer, anyway.
However, back in 2008, I was hired to be the writer on a proposed radio series that Al Gore would do about the environment. It would be 90-second features each day on a national radio syndicate put together by Westwood One (the organization that, among other things, distributes NFL football.)
I interviewed with him in a hotel room and was told bluntly by an aide that this would be 15 minutes. It ended up going so well, we spoke for 15 minutes. I gave him several articles I’d written for the Huffington Post, but the most nerve-wracking part was when I handed over the material, I saw that the piece on top was an article on why Al Gore should be president. That wasn’t the nerve-wracking part – it’s that when I so a piece like that, my style is to bring up the negatives first, knock them down and then make the case. And among the “negatives” were that Al Gore had the reputation of being wooden and boring, that he supposedly claimed to invent the Internet, and that he was a loser (despite winning the popular vote) and that his talk about Climate Change meant he was crazy. I’d meant to bury the article among the others, but there it was on top. And when he took the pile, he couldn’t help see it – and so, as I thought was likely, he decided to read it right there, in front of me. As I waited and sweated. As he got to the end of the first page, where I wrote about Bill O’Reilly calling him crazy, I held my breath – and then saw him laugh and under his breath quote the passage, “the craziest speech I’ve heard in my life” and then laugh again. I thought there was a good chance then that I was safe. And then, after reading the last paragraph where I wrapped the thesis up with why Al Gore would make a great president, he looked over and very quietly said, “Thank you.”
My favorite part of the experience was as we were preparing for the recording session to make the demos, I was sending him material of what I was working on. And one day, the phone rang, and I heard, “Hi, Bob, this is Al Gore.” I immediately replied in a sort of weary voice, “Do you know how many times a day someone says that to me??” Fortunately, he burst into a laugh. But what most impressed me was that he hadn’t had an assistant call and say, “Are you in for Al Gore? Please hold.” He just picked up the phone himself. What I also remember was having to restrain myself from laughing during the call because of the ludicrous reality of talking with Al Gore about this project we were working on, while eating a bowl of cereal for lunch.
Our small group flew from Los Angeles down to Nashville to meet, go over the project and then record the demos. We got together for lunch at the Gore home (which was delicious), but it’s the conversation in the backyard that was most memorable. That’s because of two things, keeping in mind that it took place during the primary season before the Democratic Convention when Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton were running against one another:
One was when someone asked if he had any interest in helping broker the convention, which was being proposed by some at the time. He had absolutely none, and had no interest in running again in case the party couldn’t decide on a candidate. So, from that point on when I’d hear expert TV analysts wondering if Al Gore might be a dark horse candidate, it felt really good knowing more than them and shouting at the TV, “No! He isn’t going to run! I know. He told me.”
The other was when an aide that there was an important call for him. He apologized to the group, took the phone and walked off – when we heard, “Hi, Barack.” They spoke for a long time – we even started lunch without him and could see him walking back-and-forth in his front yard. Eventually, he rejoined us, and nothing was said for about a half-minute until finally someone said, “Soooooo???!!!!!” He said it wasn’t a big deal, just some questions about campaigning, and he said that he made himself available to both sides, that he talked with Hilary as much as Barack. But the best part came many months later. That’s when one of the big papers broke a major scoop that the now-nominee Barack Obama had spoken with Al Gore before the convention. It was very nice to have had that scoop first, months before, when it happened.
The recording session went well. He’d previously told me a range of issues that interested him, I would then put together a list I’d researched, he approved the ones he liked, I’d research them further to fill in the details, we talked about them, then I wrote the scripts. At the recording session, he went over the script, making the changes he felt it needed and rephrasing the material to fit him. He recorded six of the scripts, though rejected one – not because he didn’t like it but he said he didn’t know that area well enough yet, and didn’t want to put his name to something he wasn’t fully informed on. I was sitting in the back, next to his communications director, a very nice lady named Kaylee Kreider – she could see I was still disappointed at having the script dropped, so she leaned over to him. “Don’t feel bad,” she said. “The last person we tried, he rejected al the scripts. He’s approved six of yours.”
There was only one bad memory from the trip. At the time we were in Nashville, there was a big country music convention or event of some sort. (I’d taken an afternoon off to walk around the city and went to Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ol’ Opry.) That night, our group went to a big bar where it turned out Trisha Yearwood was brought in to perform. After a while, the others decided to leave and go somewhere else for dinner – though I wanted to stay. My point was that I wondered if it was possible that her new husband Garth Brooks might join Yearwood later. But I was overruled on such a thin theory, and we left. The next morning, I found out that, yes, Garth Brooks did show up later. I still sigh about it periodically…
In the end, it was a great experience, but came to nothing. They actually got 200 radio stations to sign up and raised what struck me as a lot of money. But at that point, most anything would strike me as a lot of money. And as much as it was, it wasn’t enough for what Westwood One and Al Gore needed for the time and expenses it would take to pull off such a project in an ongoing basis. So…This Nearly Was Mine, as the song goes. But it was a wonderful project to do. even if didn’t come to fruition. And Al Gore was a good enough guy – behind the scenes, away from cameras – and warm and funny, to make me admire him even more than I had when I wrote the article on why he should be president.
Though the radio series never made it on the air, I do have the 5-minute promotional track that was put together, which includes three of the scripts I wrote that Al recorded. I didn’t write the promo, but my material starts around the one-minute mark.
Which bring us back to the original point – that every television network should have Al Gore on as a Nobel Prize-winning expert guest on Climate Change. That his film won an Oscar and he’s a former Vice-President of the United States – who ran for president and actually got the most votes, but it took a strange “one-time only” Supreme Court decision that offered no precedent to keep him from taking office – is just a bonus.
We're going to keep this on brief. But there's something that I wish was getting a great deal more mention in all the coverage of the horrific devastation from Hurricane Ida. In fact, I've only heard it said once -- from Al Roker of all people, on MSNBC -- though I'm sore it's been mentioned elsewhere. And it's that raging power and destruction of the storm is a manifestation of Climate Change. And it will only get worse until society begins to deal with it better.
Roker, of all people, was very blunt and specific about it. "This is all caused as a result of Climate Change." And went into detail why, looking at winds speeds from last year's hurricane and conditions that caused those this year. And noting how hurricanes are powered by energy, and the change in especially hot temperatures and colder than usual temperatures (which are accelerated by Climate Change) are the fuel of energy.
So, even if some reports do mention Climate Change as being behind Hurricane Ida and these range of disasters we've been seeing -- like the droughts and wildfires in the West -- and crippling floods in Europe -- that isn't enough. It's not an "Oh, by the way..." side story. It is the story. Every one of the reports we see about the entire electrical grid being out in New Orleans and that it may be weeks or months until it's repaired -- that's a story about Climate Change. And it should be reported that way.
Maybe then, at some point, the far right will get it. And not dismiss "Global Warming" as a joke from Al Gore.
I've periodically written about the ocean sailing jaunts that I've taken with my cousin Jim Kaplan, who has a small motor boat/ sailboat, the Flying Fish III. Jim has worked in the marine industry for several decades, probably at least 30 years, dealing with the general public, but also the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. He's a very bright guy and knows the subject well, especially having grown up in the Indiana Dunes on Lake Michigan in northern Indiana.
(This photo above is from a previous sail, one that turned out to be a bit misguided since a mini-squall decided to blow in.)
We took another of our cruises yesterday, and the subject of the tragic disaster in Florida came up. It was initially addressed because of my concern of where his mother and her husband lived. (Side note: his mother Elaine just celebrated her 100th birthday this past Monday. That that wasn't a unique occurrence in the household, though -- her husband Mark turned 100 last November. They have a lot of candles in the cupboards.)
Happily, they don't live on the east coast of Florida. But that moved the discussion to the collapse of the apartment complex and what could have caused it.
While this isn't the specific area of Jim's expertise, it's related to his field and his study and concerns over the years, and he had some initial thoughts of possibilities. To be very clear, what I'll describe below is NOT Jim's words, but my paraphrasing of them. Anything I get wrong is entirely my error and not his. He knows what he's talking about -- I don't.
Jim said that he could think of three possibilities, though added that there could certainly be other causes, noting that these are just his ramblings of what could conceivably have caused the disaster
The first was manmade, that there had been some issue with the construction of the complex which had been overlooked in cursory building inspections over the years, since such things aren't generally what are looked for. (Rather, he said, inspectors tend to focus on whatever caused the most recent disaster.) And so, finally, after years, the problem manifested itself.
The other two possibilities are related. (They also have more scientific reasoning behind them and are the ones which I'm more likely not to explain exactly right.)
One is that over the years, the water level rose -- perhaps related to Climate Change, and the melting of the ice caps). This would had more salt water to the area and more water pressure, which in turn could increase the erosion of land, which exposes the metal support structure, and corrosion of that metal by the salt water.
The other is that as more people have moved to the southern Florida area, more fresh water has been needed, and so it's been piped into the area for nearby sources. (I think he said the Everglades, but I won't swear to that.) And since nature abhors a vacuum, the ocean's water will move to fill that void, thereby lowering the water level. This can expose the land more, leading to its erosion, and again making the metal structure more vulnerable to corrosion by the salt water.
The only thing he said he is sure of is that corrosion of steel reinforcement ( known as rebar) in concrete can destroy the integrity of a structure.
I'll repeat the disclaimer. This is me remembering his more-detailed explanation and interpreting it the best I can.
The larger point that Jim made (the accuracy of my recollection aside) was that of these three possibilities, the "best" would be the first, since it's manmade. As terrible as such a reason would be, the cause would be limited to work done by that individual construction. The other two explanations are more problematic because they relate to environmental damage done to the land of the entire coastal area.
Again, there could be other reasons for what caused the apartment complex to collapse, and he notes that these "ramblings" are only what may have occurred -- or not. And that the study to follow will find out for certain. But as a starting point, these were three initial possibilities for finding what might have caused such a disaster to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Yesterday, I was exchanging emails with a friend in Texas that had to do with the blistering weather there. I went to a weather website to track down some information, and once there I saw a headline to story about a tornado that just hit a Chicago suburb. I knew that growing up in Glencoe, north of Chicago and on Lake Michigan, we'd occasionally have tornado watches -- though rarely reaching the level of a tornado warning -- but the tornados (and most "warnings") were usually in the more outlying and western inland areas.
I immediately clicked on the article and saw that the subheading said that the area hit was southwest of Chicago. That gave me some relief, because I was mainly checking for Glencoe (where I'm from) and other norther suburbs where most of my relatives in the area live.
But then I realized that I have a cousin who lives southwest of Chicago in Naperville, so I wanted to check about that, though happily "southwest of Chicago" is a very huge area. And reading deeper in the article, it turned out that the down hit by the tornado was...Naperville!
This is where my cousin Diana lives. I've mentioned her several times for her artwork (including the memorial fiberglass horses she was commissioned to design by the City of Chicago) and the articles that periodically have been written about her.
When I phoned her, there was no answer, so I admit to a little bit of concern -- but she called back about half an hour later. Her family was fine, and fortunately they have a basement and huddled there, While it was certainly concerning as the tornado sirens were going off at 11 PM, with torrents of rain and gale-force winds, happily there was almost no damage to the house, limited mostly a little bit of the grounds.
However, when she went out for a walk the next day to assess the area, she came across where the tornado hit. Close enough, obviously, for her to walk to. (She quipped that before going out, she made sure to first put on her ruby red slippers. And no, just to be clear for anyone wondering, and not knowing her sense of humor, she didn't actually do that.) Not only was the damage terrible, it was only about a mile from their home. As awful as the damage was, though, happily no one died, and the one person who was listed as critical and be taken off that list.
Here are some of the photos she took of the area a mile from her.
And as Diana noted in her email -- there used to be a house here. What's odd is that the homes next door on either side were relatively spared, not in the absolute direct path.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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