Global warming is a world-wide air pollution problem, likely to affect our children and grandchildren. SMOG is a local air pollution problem we have largely controlled. Now, what can be done about global warming?
When I moved to Claremont in 1954, on some summer days the SMOG was so bad I couldn’t see the end of the block. Eyes watered, lungs burned. I hated it! With the end of WW II, gasoline was again readily available. Population and industry grew. Westerly winds brought in cool ocean air that trapped pollutants as it slipped under the warmer lighter air inland. The summer sun cooked up a soup of “photochemical smog”, the worst in the nation. It blew away overnight, only to be recreated the next day. We couldn’t go on living in that atmosphere. Regulations were put in place to reduce air pollutants from industry. Catalytic converters were required on cars, and SMOG CHECK assured they were working. It worked. In spite of increased population, cars, and industry, air in the Southland is much cleaner today.
But now we are facing another, more insidious, air pollution problem, one with world-wide consequences that will take international cooperation and decades to control. It is global warming from buildup of carbon dioxide in the air. Only recently has carbon dioxide been considered an air pollutant. We breathe it out, and plants must have it to grow. Worldwide concentrations in the air varied from about 180 to 300 parts per million for at least 400,000 years, and had not exceeded that until the 1950s. Now it has risen to about 400, and is continuing to increase in close parallel with world population.
Why is this buildup a problem? Carbon dioxide in the air acts much like the wall of a greenhouse. It lets in sunlight, but traps heat. The result is global warming. Ice melts. Sea levels rise. Ocean currents change. Climate, food supplies, ecosystems, and civilization will be disrupted if the rise continues. The effects will increase over decades, and will take decades to recover. Deforestation and use of carbon-based fuels such as gas, oil, coal and wood are about equally responsible for the increases.
In Claremont’s Sustainable City Plan there is a goal to decrease energy use 20% by 2020. What can we do to help achieve that goal? It makes sense to use more fuel-efficient cars. But nationwide almost half the energy use is for buildings — twice as much as for transportation. For homeowners improving home energy efficiency may be easy and effective. Often improving insulation and leaky ductwork is relatively cheap and results in dramatic energy and money savings, while making the home more comfortable to live in.
California is a word leader in addressing global warming.. By law, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. Nationally and internationally the situation is not as promising. The national Energy Bill is stalled in Congress. International talks in Copenhagen in December did not result in the hoped-for agreement to cut emissions.
This is a particularly good time to consider having your home energy efficiency improved. Millions in financial incentives will soon be available. If your gas and electric costs seem high, consider participating in Claremont’s Energy Retrofit Project. It can benefit both you and global warming. Come to a meeting this evening (February 24), 7:00 PM, at the Padua Room, Hughes Center, 1700 Danbury Rd. Claremont, or call Chris Veirs, (909) 399 5486 for further information.
Richard Worthington (Pomona Political Science) and Dawn Bickett (Pomona ’10) participated in the Copenhagen talks and played a lead role in assessing public opinion. For their views on the talks, and what might now be done, come to a Sustainability Dialog presentation on March 1, 7:00 PM, at the Hahn building, 420 N. Harvard Ave, Claremont.
Demystifying Sustainability is an initiative of Sustainable Claremont (sustainableclaremont.org).