City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 8, 2017

February 8th

Filed under: Pollution, Weather — canopus56 @ 10:56 pm

Distant Pollution Causes

External Link to Image

Source: World Air Quality Index Team. World Air Quality Index.

5:30 p.m. Last night was clear, today was again wonderfully sunny, and temperatures reached nearly sixty degrees. But by the end of the day, the skies are again overcast with a slight rain. Salt Lake typically is overcast for 17 days in January, and in 2017, it feels like all of those days were concentrated at the end of the month. I realize that from several weeks of January overcast skies that I have lost my connection with the solar and lunar cycles. The January melt snow-ice layer by the side of the road continues to melt and this evening has been reduced to one-third of its original volume.

Following the cross-quarter day (Feb. 3rd), the days of heavy air pollution from inversions are declining, and today is the fourth straight day of clear air. According to a distribution chart of heavy winter air pollution days from 1999-2011 prepared by the Department of Meteorology at the University of Utah, the heavy winter inversion season in the valley occurs during the eight weeks before and after January 1st of each year (University of Utah, 2017). During this season, air pollution creeps into the higher canyon from the valley below.

Pollution levels in the canyon and the Wasatch Front inversion layer are also related to distant events in time and in location. The root cause of heavy air pollution is local, that is the propensity of city and county residents’ to prefer low-density housing, the resulting suburban sprawl, and the high personal automobile driving requirements associated with that development pattern. But the level of air pollution rising in the canyon is also related to global air pollution and economic events. After jogging through clean air today, I am looking at the World Air Quality Index, an internet application developed by a programming team principally based in Beijing that displays air quality indicators readings from around the globe, and I am immediately struck by the pattern of green, indicating a low AQI and good air, and yellow, red and purple, indicating a high AQI and bad air. The United States and the canyon are almost entirely green, while China is almost entirely red and purple and the European Union is almost entirely yellow and red.

This pattern, which indicates that air pollution in my local canyon could be far worse than currently occurs, is the result of intentional human decisions. In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter’s environmental vision for the future was one in which the United States would transition to non-air polluting energy sources, including solar and nuclear energy. At that time the idea of zero-pollution design and manufacturing also arose. The theory at the time was that the United States would develop these clean technologies first and then maintain its global economic dominance by reselling them to developing countries. These visions have only partially come about. United States manufacturing value as a percentage of GDP has remained constant by industry concentrating on high value products made from materials imported from overseas. But the United States de-industrialized from manufacturing common consumer products that create higher pollution levels during fabrication by a combination of environmental policies that increase costs and by pursuing free market trade policies and globalization. Also in pursuit of free market policies, the United States changed its education finance model by dramatically reducing investment in public education and moving financing of education to the private sector. As a result, the percentage of United States born engineers and scientists at the graduate and undergraduate levels dramatically declined simply because education was no longer affordable. Those were the people who were needed to develop non-polluting manufacturing. In these respects, the environmental visions of the 1970s vision were only partially implemented. In the United States while alternative energy developed, zero pollution manufacturing did not come to fruition. China, in particular, decided in the mid-1970s to pursue an economic strategy of becoming a global manufacturing concern, and the United States investment and financial sector responded, based on New Chicago School of Economics free market ideologies, by forcing United States manufacturers to relocate overseas. Although globalization did bring lower priced consumer products to the United States, globalization only “works” in that narrow economic price sense because it is not difficult for manufacturers to achieve lower prices by moving processes to countries like China and Southeast Asia. Globalization only works because it does not include non-economic environmental costs, such as those shown in the World Air Quality Index map. China and southest Asian countries have no or few environmental controls, dump toxic wastes directly into un-contained landfills and waterways, and imprison laborers who strike for higher wages or better working conditions. Although in the United States environmental design of buildings (e.g. LEAD certification) and reduced input manufacturing has progressed, development of true zero pollution manufacturing remains constrained by low globalization prices based principally on transferring unmeasured manufacturing pollution costs to citizens of other nations.

I enjoy the good air of the canyon, I am appreciative that the environmental movement of the 1970s brought about changes that preserves my health, but I do so with a sense of practicality. It is unethical for Americans to enjoy an environment with relatively clean air by simply exporting pollution from manufacturing consumer goods to other countries, and the challenge for this and the next generation will be to complete the 1970’s engineering vision for reduced pollution manufacturing. Then manufacturing of general consumer goods can and should be brought back to the United States, although at higher prices.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 8th, 1860, he records a +43 degree temperature; on February 8th, 1861, a -22 degree temperature.

On February 8th, 1900, one-hundred head of emaciated horses were discovered having been left to graze in the City Creek Canyon over the winter (Salt Lake Tribune).

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