As I entered the Los Angeles Area on the drive down from my hometown of Berkeley, the first thing I noticed was a curious shade of gray spanning a foot above the horizon. I turned to the friend I was traveling with, who happened to be from Los Angeles, and pointed.
“What is that?” I asked, having never been to Los Angeles or to Orange County. “Oh, what? Uh, yeah, that’s the smog,” she replied nonchalantly. “It’s whatever.”
However, smog isn’t a matter Californians should dismiss so lightly. According to a new study conducted at Cal State Fullerton, lowering air pollution in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley would save more lives than if all vehicle-related fatalities were to cease. The study compared the 2,521 motor vehicle deaths reported by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to the 3,812 deaths attributed to respiratory complications caused by pollution.
The study also examined the broader economic and health-related repercussions of pollution. It found that if pollution was lowered to federal standards, there would be more than two million fewer cases of upper respiratory problems, 3,780 fewer nonfatal heart attacks and 3,860 fewer premature deaths. Jane Hall, the lead author of the study, labeled dirty air the “$28 billion lead balloon on our economy.”
However, getting rid of pollution is no easy feat; it’s difficult to get cars off the road by convincing people to ride bikes, take public transportation or walk. The costs are also staggering. A controversial proposal by the California Air Resources Board estimated that reducing diesel truck emissions would cost $5.5 billion. This hefty sum will put a dent in California’s already dwindling funds, but, according to the Board’s estimates, by 2020 California will reap $68 billion in saved health care costs.
The smog can be attributed to the lack of access to public transportation and a lack of environmental awareness in Southern California. Underground systems are sparingly used in Southern California and buses run scarcely and under poor conditions.
In the Bay Area, BART (the subway) and buses are the order of the day for getting around; nearly everyone in my high school took some form of public transportation, walked or biked to and from school, social functions and any activities. It was an easy, safe and reliable way to travel.
Upon arrival in Southern California, I was surprised to find that people drove everywhere. The situation didn’t get better in Irvine. To travel in this city, it is imperative to have a car because the long, wide streets do not lend themselves to easy travel by foot.
The amount of cars on the road in Orange County and Los Angeles County also lies in stark contrast to the number of cars one sees in the Bay Area. The types of car differ as well. Pickup trucks, SUVs and G-Wagons roam freely on University Avenue, but on the same University Avenue in Berkeley, every other car is a more environmentally friendly Prius or Hybrid.
The attitude toward pollution is different in Southern California; one would think that since inhabitants of the area see pollution every day, they might do something about it, but little action is taken. At this point, it is vital to further implement a larger variety of dependable public transportation, so that the dependency on cars can be curbed.
Since childhood, the radical, environmentally conscious attitude of Berkeley was ingrained in me. Perhaps the radicalism that was so stressed back home is necessary here in Southern California, so that pollution will no longer be “whatever.”
Maxine Wally is a first-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.