This is a bit of a rant.
The Massachusetts Bay area is under an Air Quality Alert and Air Stagnation Advisory today. Particle pollution and ozone levels are expected to be at level orange, “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Here is the text of the National Weather Service message:
AN AIR QUALITY HEALTH ADVISORY HAS BEEN ISSUED BECAUSE OZONE AND PARTICLE POLLUTION LEVELS ARE EXPECTED TO CONTINUE TO BE ELEVATED ALONG THE COAST AND INTERIOR REGIONS ON WEDNESDAY. THE MAINE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION RECOMMENDS THAT INDIVIDUALS CONSIDER LIMITING STRENUOUS OUTDOOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY TO REDUCE THE RISK OF ADVERSE HEALTH EFFECTS. PEOPLE WHO MAY BE ESPECIALLY SENSITIVE TO THE EFFECTS OF ELEVATED LEVELS OF POLLUTANTS INCLUDE THE VERY YOUNG...AND THOSE WITH PRE-EXISTING RESPIRATORY PROBLEMS SUCH AS ASTHMA AND OR HEART DISEASE. THOSE WITH SYMPTOMS SHOULD CONSIDER CONSULTING THEIR PERSONAL PHYSICIAN.
Symptoms, all right — try “difficulty breathing,” “the urge to faint,” “fatigue,” “coughing fits,” and “respiratory chest pain.”
While the ozone apparently hasn’t kicked in yet as of 2:00 p.m. local time, the particle pollution is VERY evident already. Apparently I am in a “sensitive group.” OK, I am — I’m mildly asthmatic. This happened last year, when ozone and particle pollution days were quite frequent in July and August during the East Coast heat waves.
This form of pollution is caused by hot temperatures such as what we’re having today (approaching 100 degrees), a persistent haze, and people with polluting habits. Taking the thoroughfares into one of the cities during peak hour generally means that your car crawls along at 25-40 mph and often has to stop altogether. This sort of driving pattern just contributes extra to the pollution level, especially when the vehicles are in close quarters, as they would be during peak hours.
Look, the area has public transit. Most commuter rail stops are within a reasonable driving distance of someone’s home. For most people, it really isn’t necessary to do a 2 hour commute on the freeways. (If there truly aren’t any other choices for you, I’m not complaining about you.) I don’t ask that you alter your schedule every day, but is it really too much to ask for commuters to forgo the car for a couple of days out of the month in the summer, out of consideration for people with respiratory problems that are aggravated by the pollution?
The big stumbling block in doing something about global warming, which incidentally is always the stumbling block for any sort of environmental change, is that people don’t want to change their habits. They certainly don’t want to make sacrifices if they don’t see their behaviors directly affecting themselves.
I’m in the prime of my life, but among those who experience ill effects on these high pollution days, I’m in the minority in that respect. Most people who have problems are either elderly or children. You wouldn’t blow car exhaust into your elderly parent’s face, or your kid’s. But by choosing to drive on days when the air pollution potential is high, you might as well be doing just that.