Memory, History And Policy

At a Fourth of July party a friend and I were discussing the changes we’ve seen in the Los Angeles area over the course of our lifetimes. We both mentioned air pollution. Our earliest memories were of the air in the Los Angeles basin being awful. It was a rare day when one could see the mountains from even a few miles away and breathing problems on hot summer days and some cool winter nights were common even among the otherwise healthy. Now, the days that the mountains are totally obscured in smog are few and most of the time we can no longer see what we’re breathing. In fact, the word “smog” is seldom uttered or heard. Things are not perfect but they are orders of magnitude better. And they are better in the face of a greatly expanded population. But one needs to be 50 or so years old to remember how bad it was.
How did it change? It changed due to strong, persistent, intervention by all levels of government with regard to all forms of air pollution but particularly pollution from motor vehicles. In other words, things got better because of government policy and government enforcement of policy. Local, State and Federal mandates controlled and limited the amount of polluting discharge from both individual practice and large scale manufacturing. And they still do. Such policies were supported by equally strong political will. While these policies were being put in place and implemented, almost everyone found something to hate about them. I know my dad vehemently condemned restrictions on pollutants from his employer’s steel foundry. He also condemned the restrictions on us burning our trash in our backyard furnace. He blamed smog on the auto industry. They blamed it on everyone else including nature. But the truth was that everything including nature contributed its share and those contributors over which humans and their governments had control all needed to be regulated.
This discussion brought us to another change we remembered: the addition of the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance to the flag. That happened in 1954. You’d need to be over sixty now to have been in school at the time that happened.
For many active politicians and their supporters it’s easy to imagine that the air has always been clean and that God has always been in our public schools and assemblies. It’s also hard for them not to imagine that government intervention in things like environmental management does more harm than good and to think, “Thank God the air in the Los Angeles basin has always been clean!”

One thought on “Memory, History And Policy”

  1. Indeed, the air has improved in the LA area quite a bit. I clearly remember the dark brown of the air in the ’70s and ’80s. I remember in the summer of 1985 a number of days when I would hold a wet washcloth over my face because I couldn’t tolerate how it made my throat and lungs feel. Looking out from Ontario, it was the rare day that I could see Baldy.
    However, in the last 20 years, the air has cleaned up quite quickly, and when in Ontario, I usually can see Baldy in the distance. I do not miss the smog, but I do miss the miles and miles of orange groves and vineyards when driving to or away from Ontario/Pomona/Montclair/etc. Sadly, Ontario isn’t quite what is use to be. Something that hasn’t really changed, though, is that occasional waft of air coming from Chino. 😛

Comments are closed.