Photo by Aantonin Kratochvil/OnEarth
California’s San Pedro Bay hosts a sprawling metropolis of polluting cargo ships, trucks, and locomotives filled with bulk cargo and cheap Asian consumer goods. Massive refineries stretch for nearly a half a mile toward the water.
The twin ports spew more pollution than the top 300 industrial sources and refineries in the Los Angeles Basin combined, most of it from ships and boats—themselves many times more polluting than all the power plants in Southern California put together. They form a “diesel death zone” that sets off allergies and asthma attacks in children, while sending the risk of developing cancer from air pollution skyrocketing. Welcome to the New Economy.
From the latest issue of OnEarth:
The off-shoring of manufacturing has moved some of the smokestacks away, but it has stoked countless new ones in the breakneck industrialization and urbanization of the developing world. And all that stuff made abroad has to be brought back to us, on demand, satisfying our ever-greater desire for speed and low cost. We click off our wishes on Web sites, setting in motion diesel engines by the tens of thousands: trucks, loaders, cranes, and locomotives, armadas of little smokestacks toiling to deliver us the goods. Ninety percent of international trade still moves by ship, as it has since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
What makes diesel exhaust different from ordinary exhaust is the soot particles typical disesel engines emit. Fine particulates that make up 94 percent of diesel emissions can penetrate lung tissue and cause genetic and cellular damage. You also get volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and formaldehyde, along with smog-causing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides. Add to that arsenic, cadmium, dioxin, mercury, and nearly 40 other cancer-causing substances, and you can see why diesel exhaust is responsible for 71 percent of the cancer risk from air pollution in the state of California. (The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach contribute more than 25 percent of the diesel exhaust in the region; emissions have gone up at least 20 percent since 2001.)
The article quotes Noel Park, a long-time San Pedro resident and a community activist who has finally decided to leave town after years of trying to convince officials that public health was a greater concern than “economic growth”:
“I swore to God I was going to live my life out in that house,” he said. “I’ve lived here 38 years.” Most of all, he was saddened by the implications of his own departure: “Anyone who takes the trouble to understand the issues leaves. And who’s left behind? The people who can’t leave. Well, God have mercy on them. If that’s not environmental injustice, I don’t know what is.”
Read the entire article here.
Before you check into your favorite online store and start clicking frenetically on your mouse button like a famished woodpecker, click over to a virtual swap meet such as Freecycle or Craig’s List, instead. Chances are, you’ll find what you need at only a fraction of what you’d have paid for something brand new, without sending your carbon emissions whizzing into the stratosphere. We recently snagged a like-new Ikea craft table (with a solid-wood top and steel legs) for $20 because the previous owner didn’t have room in his new apartment. Because the guy lived only 2 blocks from a PATH station, I made my humans haul it back home via mass tranist and their own God-given pedal power.