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A visitor to Los Angeles once stated, “Los Angeles is the only place where you can actually see the air that you breathe.” That statement pretty much sums up air pollution not only in Los Angeles, but also in most metropolitan areas, and that dubious distinction is not confined just to the cities, it is seeping into the nation’s parks and recreational areas. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—the agency charged with protecting the quality of the nation’s air and enforcing environmental laws in general—recently gave failing grades to the National Parks relative to air quality.
In California, the parks named are: Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree; in Colorado, Rocky Mountain; in North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountain; in Maine, Arcadia; and in Virginia, Shenandoah. It’s becoming a national scandal in terms of air quality.
One of the National Park Service’s officials reported, “The fact that the behavior of society is messing up the cities we have learned to expect, but to have the same effects occur in areas that are supposed to be special national treasures is disturbing, to say the least.” And therein lies the human factor. Advances in human technology have greatly contributed to the deterioration of the earth’s natural resources.
Consider the following. In order to travel from point A to point B, man has designed the plane, the ship, the train and the automobile, which all add to (air) pollution in some form. Added to that, the fuel that is necessary to operate these machines creates another element in the pollution chain, and it is further compounded by man’s natural tendency to try and compete with, or to outdo nature. So pollution, in one form or another, is one of the prices society pays for advancement. But does society have to give up so much—the quality and duration of life—in order “to advance”? And is this really “advancement” relative to the quality and the duration of life, or is it a pyrrhic victory?
In Los Angeles, as with other areas of the country, there is a local agency that monitors the air quality; it’s called the AQMD. (Air Quality Management District). Analyzing the findings of the EPA nationally, and the AQMD locally, almost 40% of the nation’s population live in places where the air is too dirty to meet new standards—standards based on EPA measurements of air quality.
People traditionally have used the national parks to escape city life, with all of its horrors, and to relax. However, the recent findings suggest there is really no escaping air pollution. A trip to the national park is no longer an enjoyable and healthy interaction with the pristine wilderness, rather it is an encounter with unhealthy amounts of ground-level ozone—a pollutant that can aggravate asthma, encourage respiratory illness like pneumonia and damage lungs, just to name a few of the downside effects. It also eats away at the flora and fauna in the parks.
Just as the cities have certain reported ozone levels, the parks will soon have to be so designated. There has been some improvement in smog levels in urban areas across the country in recent years. That may be because of pockets of migrations to the suburbs, not because of any real improvement in the quality of the air. In other words, pollution is increasing horizontally not vertically—the key word here being “increasing”. Nonetheless, Congress seems to be trying to slow the impact of pollution by re-visiting the 1977 amendments to the Clean Air Act. This action will also increase the pressure on state and local governments to protect the air quality in pristine areas.
Presently there is a plan afoot to help curb the proliferation of pollution in the national parks areas. The plan will limit day-use access to the parks by cars and trucks. However, it is readily acknowledged that this plan, in and of itself, has to be implemented in conjunction with other remedies. Farm and construction equipment also emit huge amounts of pollution, and their usage and proximity to parks have to be factored into any possible solution, notwithstanding, nearby industrial pollution and locations of industrial plants relative to regular wind patterns in the given areas. The task is monumental, but doing nothing is not an option.
Human activity has certainly created, sustained and continues to worsen the problem of pollution. The impact of transportation machines on air pollution is just one aspect in the whole dynamic of human culpability in the deterioration of the natural environment. It would appear that the days of the horse and buggy, the stagecoach or the chariot do not seem that crude after all. The only pollution emitting from that era fell behind the horse, and it was readily contained and sometimes re-cycled as manure. Human beings are killing themselves with advancement.
(1) Funk & Wagnalls New International Dictionary of the English Language, Volumes I. New York: J.G. Ferguson Publishing Co (c) 1980. (2) Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers: Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A. (c) 1976. (3) Los Angeles Times Newspaper, April 8, 2004.