Air Pollution

   It’s a chilly morning in mid-November. Recalling last winter and the worst days of the inversion that traps the capitals smog. Has me looking forward to this winter with grim hesitation. Inversion that holds Air pollution from coal burning stoves, commutes, refiners and other industries, long and low in the Salt Lake valley for days even weeks at a time. It was so bad the air quality suffered noticeably even here in the rural, Central Utah town of Nephi, 84miles from the epicenter of the pollution. Climbing just to the foothills of Mount Nebo you could see a distinct line of haze. Gray brown the color of putty and ash. Hovering just beyond Mona Reservoir. Diluting itself the closer it got to town. There where arguments last winter about whether or not our little town was being plagued by fog or pollution. It is disheartening when individuals cannot see the correlation when such devastating effect of air pollution are so evident just a little over an hour’s drive away.

   Salt Lake City on Tuesday January 31st 2017 was ranked by the Environmental Protection Agency as the worst air in the nation. A startling assessment given the USA is second only to China in the world for pollution and emission. The city seems to make headlines every year. Surpassing the pollution levels of known polluter Bakersfield California. The City has made miniscule efforts in curbing the emission problems it’s faced. Passing an anti-idling ordinance in an effort to cut pollution. However, year after year protesters can be seen on the steps of the capital in gas and dust masks demanding reform. Their cries seeming to fall on deaf ears. The community wants more and better regulations on the oil refineries, that can be seen billowing smoke just a short jog north of the city. Many believe those changes will never be seen with polluting industries in the pockets of the Politicians. Salt Lake City has a vast and efficient public transportation system. Stretching to connect the three major cities of northern Utah, Provo, Ogden and with Salt Lake City smack dab in the middle. Sadly it is underutilized and why wouldn’t it be when it cost more to ride public transportation monthly that it does to own your own vehicle. I have faith with all the dedicated caring people working so diligently to reform air quality, Salt Lake City will clean up its act but will it be soon enough?

   The effects of pollution span much further than an unsightly or fowl smelling city. The CDC has reported that Utah has the highest rate of autism in the country. Studies have confirmed the increased risk in children of pregnant mothers exposed to pollution. Utah was also ranked 5th in the nation for suicides. Giving it the not so fond title of “The Suicide Belt”. Studies have been confirmed not only here in Utah about the increased risk to suicide based on air pollution but also South Korea, Taiwan and Canada. The studies found and increased rate of suicide in the days following Red Air. More immediate effects can be felt with irritation in the eyes nose and throat. As well as upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Headache and nausea can also be prevalent and effects not only myself but my family after a hour in the city on a red burn day. Other long-term effects can include lung cancer, heart disease, damage to the brain liver and kidneys. Pollution aggravates medical conditions and be a particular source of woe, for people with compromised immune systems. The winters in the city are becoming very similar to cities like Hong Kong. More and more people every year out and about with air filtering masks on.  It's not just the effects of particulate pollution. Pollution you can see but also ozone. Thousands of deaths every year in the US are related to ozone exposure. Salt Lake County ozone levels exceeded the federal standard 52 times from 2012-2014. Utah Averages F for ozone pollution and a D for particle. The American Lung Association relates ozone exposer to something like a sunburn inside your lungs. It is predicted that if we cut our ozone pollution by one third we could potentially save 4,000 lives in the US every year. Emergency rooms are plagued with people suffering the effects of pollution. A tragic blight on society that is largely preventable.

   Where is the solution? The Paris Climate Accord is a step in the right direction. An Agreement with 196 of the world’s nations to drastically cut greenhouse gas emission (Air Pollution). June 2017 was met with a widespread disheartening as Trump announced his intent to withdraw the US from the agreement.  Goldman Sachs Research’s Jaakko Kooroshy believes Trumps withdraw will have little effect on the low carbon goals set in the Paris Climate Accord. Technology and innovation keep pushing forward with clean energy becoming more and more accessible.

“The bottom line here is that politics around climate change and the Low Carbon Economy are likely to remain volatile... But we believe that markets and technologies will continue to be the key drivers behind the accelerating low carbon transition”- Jaakko Kooroshy.

In the end it’s always about the consumer. Lobbing for political change is important but voting with your dollars can be more effective. Paying that extra $20-$50 a month for a public transit pass might be energy better spent than hours on the hill trying to lobby for cheaper transit solutions. Paris has announced a plan that will ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. I do not believe that the US will be that far behind them. With companies like Nissan and now Tesla putting out consumer friendly price point on electric vehicles. It will all come down too choice. If we want people to make better choices for themselves, their neighbors and the environment, we need to be willing to invest the time and resources to educate.