As environmentally conscious people, we all long to see the day that the topics of smog and emissions take a front seat in politics. But as savvy Americans, we also understand that the current state of the economy, the financial future of the country, is always going to be a hotter topic on the minds of politicians and the public at large.
So recently when an article was released in the LA Times detailing that the EPA was going to miss a self imposed deadline for determining the necessary tougher standards on smog emissions, I had to ask â€“ where does health rate on the sliding scale of priorities?
The article indicated that the first deadline of July 29 was pushed back to August 12, 2011. Both deadlines were self imposed by the Agency. Unfortunately the LA Times didn’t write a follow-up article to indicate whether the Environmental Protection Agency came through on â€œissuing rules on low-level ozone, the main ingredient in smogâ€ so I started looking into the topic. It turns out that it was a group of environmentalists suing the agency back in 2008 during the Bush administration that prompted the imposed on the EPA to determine the deadlines in the first place.
What Is Low-level Ozone?
The short answer is that it is the atmosphere around us, the air we breathe every day. The long answer brings to light why standards for lowering it are in order.
In describing the ozone layer the Earth Observatory page on the NASA website indicates:
â€œIn the stratosphere, ozone shields us from the Sun’s deadly ultraviolet radiation. But in the troposphere, this same gas impairs lung capacity and reduces agricultural productivity. Both human activities and natural processes generate the chemical compounds that serve as â€œprecursorsâ€ to the formation of ozone. Currently, human activities generate about as much ozone as natural processes do, creating a public health hazard.â€
Since we as humans have created a goodly portion of the low-level ozone, it seems only right that we should be the ones to fix the problem. This is why, as citizens we rely on organizations like the EPA to set standards so the manufacturers and businesses that create smog emitting products and processes can be held to a higher standard and we can all enjoy a healthier quality of air to breathe.
The deeper rooted issue lies in what could happen if the EPA does eventually get together to set those standards.
As I continued to read the LA Times article something vital jumped out at me that seemed an even greater risk than the missing of a deadline.
â€œResearch shows that living in areas with high concentrations of ozone worsens respiratory ailments. The EPA estimates that up to 12,000 lives could be saved annually from implementing the new standardsâ€¦But stricter ozone limits would affect power plants, refineries and a range of manufacturing, some of which might move to countries with weaker standards, lobbyists said.â€
This raised a red flag for me in many aspects and I posed the question whether the entire issue is a big catch-22. If the standards are raised, we will be able to breathe easier and clearly could save thousands of lives. But, if those producing the smog in the first place just move to another country to continue in the same manner they always have, not only does it impact the health of those people but it reduces the job market in our country.
The staggering catch at first made me feel a little sad, helpless, like there was nothing I could do even if the EPA came up with a solid plan.
As part of the EcoEtsy team, I know that our members are all green-minded entrepreneurs. But the fact remains that we run businesses and sometimes produce our own emissions from the manufacture of our products. It isn’t that we mean to or even want to but some emission is inevitable in daily life.
But then I got to thinking, why would we rely solely on an organization to tell us what the standards are? Why aren’t we holding ourselves to a higher standard in the first place?
So What Can We Do About It?
That is the key â€“ what can we do about it?!
Some ways to lower emissions and do our part to start reversing the problem without even getting a single governmental agency involved are:
- Ride a bike instead of driving
- Do all your errands that require a car on the same day and if possible, in the same general vicinity
- Recycle/upcycle items into something new to extend their lifecycle and to prevent creation of new materials at factories/plants
- Grow oxygen producing plants that help clean the air
- Unplug/turn off anything not currently in use
- Lessen time on the computer or other energy drawing devices
- Use reusable shopping bags and refuse a bag for small purchases
- Install energy efficient products (only when the old ones are totally worn out of course!) such as light bulbs, appliances, etc.
- Utilize geographic specific landscaping that requires less energy to maintain
- Turn down the heat/AC
- Install programmable thermostats that allow for more efficient management of the above
- Check labels and try to avoid items that are heavily processed and/or contain petroleum (including the packaging!)
- Buy locally grown and organic produce
- Eat less meat
- Work from home
- Pass on suggestions and advice to those who may not know their own impact
- And most importantly â€“ DO YOUR RESEARCH! (Yes I’m shouting because it is crucial)
There are so many more ways to reduce our own emissions that the places to find information are long and broad, but a great place to start is the EPA’s own FAQ page on emissions. There you can get a feel for what it is the EPA will be addressing with these new standards to begin with. And it never hurts to get actively involved in your community as well. Writing to local officials that it is an issue close to our hearts means the seeds are planted (no pun intended!) that we truly do care about our own respiratory health as well as the health of those in other countries.
Americans are responsible for the greatest number of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, so, as an American, I for one pledge to take a stand as someone who owns up to the mistakes of my past eco-indiscretions and will make the greatest possible effort to do my part in putting a stop to the trend before its too late.
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