July 21, 2005


Smog too much*

Yesterday I found myself suffering from symptoms of smog poisoning. I had heard many times that living in a polluted environment is like smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes a day, but I had assumed this was some clean-air advocate’s attempt to exaggerate the danger so as to underline the issue’s importance. Until yesterday, that is. Today, I have little doubt about the matter. I felt just like a heavy smoker does, and I don’t even smoke. And it happened just after we had particularly high levels of smog approaching the "dangerous" level for a couple of days in a row. Today I feel much better, but now I am sure this sort of thing has the same long-term effect on me and others as heavy smoking.

There used to be a time, and not so long ago at that, when Toronto had incredibly clean air for a large metropolis. We have more cloudy days than many other places. But the thing was that the cloudy days made you look forward to the clear days when the sun would shine in a beautiful blue sky that extended from one horizon to the other.

Not any longer. These days, there are cloudy smoggy days and clear smoggy days. On some days, in fact, you are not sure which one you are looking at. Even on the clearest days, the sky is a grayish blue, with a band of pure gray around the horizon.

It all happened very gradually. A few years ago, we had our first experience of “smog alerts” issued by the weather people. We thought of it as a passing curiosity. More importantly, we thought it would send a clear warning to government and business that urgent action was needed. But very little was done, and the problem got worse with each passing year. What had begun as smoggy days extended into smoggy weeks. Still, we thought, “Oh well, this is just some problem associated with summer heat waves.” Then, last year, during some of the coldest days of winter, we had our first experience of winter smog. We could not believe our eyes, but there it was. I think we experienced something like what scientists feel when they encounter a phenomenon that contradicts every known fact.

The Ontario government has always, more or less, washed its hands of the problem, claiming that most of the air pollution comes from south of the border. Whether or not that is true, and I have my doubts about that, I don’t think it absolves them of the responsibility to do something about it right here in Ontario. And, by the way, one reason I have doubts about their claim is that a couple of days ago the smog blanket covered the entire southern half of Ontario, up to the North Bay area and farther north.

Be that as it may, the Ontario government’s inaction makes me wonder who is going to defend our interests and really do something about this problem, which is killing a large number of people right here in Ontario.

What is the mandate of a government official, as he/she sees it? Is it to fight for the people, so that they will live happier healthier lives, free of unnecessary suffering and exploitation? I don’t think so. Government officials are trained to think first and foremost of promoting business. They think of that as their function. They think greater business activity is synonymous with a better society. Government officials and their associated technocrats think there is a “fix” for every problem, and such fixes always involve awarding a contract to some business or other. Yet the nature of such business activity, as with the capitalist system as a whole, is to exacerbate problems in the long run, rather than to help solve them.

One looks around in vain for anyone who represents the people’s real long-term interests. Even many so-called environmental advocacy groups are in fact business lobbies. There is a well-known Ontario organization, which shall remain nameless, whose professed mandate is to research and advocate regarding issues related to pollution. The reality is that this particular organization’s actual motive is to reduce even further the measly amount of government action regarding this problem, and to advocate for the interests of the polluting industries. With friends like these …

*The name of one of the characters in a Monty Python skit was Smoke-Too-Much.

Hello again. A very good article again. And a very interesting topic. As you probably know, I live in Norway. We generally have very small cities, so we do not have much smog problem on our cities. However, in northern Norway, we have a big problem.... Russia. The Russian province Murmansk borders to Norway. If you ever look at what has happened to nature there, you will probably weep. Also, acid rain is carried from Russian metal mills over our borders. Right after the cold war, the Norwegian government decided to economically support the companies doing the pollution, so that they could do cleaner industry. Now, these companies have profits into the billions... and we are STILL paying up. You are right, business and environment rarely mix well, but our governments CAN do something. As an example, there is a nuclear plant in Britain called Sellafield. A norwegian environmental organization (www.bellona.no/en) proved that Sellafield was dumping radioactive waste into the north sea. Then after strong pression from both Bellona and the Norwegian Minister of Environment (Børge Brende,Conservatives or "Høyre"), Sellafield has cleaned up its act. ( http://www.bellona.no/en/energy/nuclear/sellafield/32551.html ).
Sometimes pressuring major corporations work!
I have had asthma since I was about four years old. Here in Chicago, the rate of asthma is among the highest in the world, and it is believed to be possibly the result of pollution from old power plants. Air pollution is clearly a serious problem in cities, but what is Bush's solution? He wants to reduce the emmissions from diesel tractors that are used on farms. That is his plan to reduce air pollution. I can't believe that he didn't get laughed off the stage when he mentioned it in his state of the union speech.
Heh IM!!! Good one. That has to rank (pune intended) alongside of the suggestion that NZ could make a major contribution to the reduction of global pollution by reducing the methane gas emitted by cows and sheep...

The original proponent of this was one George Gair, Minister of Energy who expressed the idea more as a regret - that the methane could not be captured and used for electricity generation. Newspaper cartoons the next day had George careering around cow paddocks in a 4wd trying to lassoo statled cows and other variations on the same theme.

One recent version had a bunch of young guys with their gas fuelled BBQ running out halfway through cooking their steaks. A brief pursuit with a long length of hose and "Daisy" was hooked up and the BBQ back in service - apart from the occasional flare.
As I understand the Canadian health care system don't they ultimately bear the cost of treatment? If so then it makes little difference where the event occurs some approach needs to be instituted to: A) Stifle the pollution: B) minimize it's impact on the populace. Sorry to learn about your personal difficulties.

Mario's comment is very interesting as it relates to other topics dicsussed here. Obviously Russia/Soviet infrastructure cares little about it's own or neighboring populations. Again leaves me wondering where this entire middle east mess would be if they retained control over Afghanistan. They were not very nice people to have in charge of much of anything.
To “Immoral Majority” and “The Probligo”: Very funny stuff. I don’t know what it is about these conservative types that gives them such deep-seated antipathy towards the countryside, including livestock and farm equipment and emissions therefrom. Remember Reagan’s firm belief in the “theory” that trees are the primary source of greenhouse gases?
That sounds terrible. I used to go to Onterio a lot when I was younger and I mostly remember how beautiful it was there. It's a shame to think what it's like now.
Have you heard about Mexico city pollution? It's the worst.
Ontario is still (almost) as beautiful as ever, Stephanie (or at least that's what Ontario Tourism would have us believe). Air pollution and smog, though, are relatively new phenomena here, which is why they are still a little scary to us. A related problem is urban sprawl, which has been destroying large areas of Ontario farmland.
great site Al. Yuor blog has now reached Bangladesh. BTW, pollution in Dhaka city is worse than Mexico city(not much smog but more lead content in the air).
Smog problems do not entirely depend on the size of the city or the type of carpark it has. As an example, Trondheim is a small city in world perspective(about 150,000), but during cold and dry winter days, it has severe air-quality problems. This is probably due to two things 1, The public transportation there is mostly diesel fueled buses, and all the bus lines run through the city center. The second reason is that the city center is located in a rather tight valley, so you get like a "smog pot" effect. There used to be many more trams going through Trondheim(some 10 yers ago or so), but during the 80's (i believe) the governing political party thought they'd make it more convenient and comfortable for cars to drive through the center. They ripped upp almoast all of the tram lines, and replaced them with diesel buses. Now there is only one tram line left in the city. Now, to put the lines back would have a huge cost for the city, so I don't think that will happen in the near future. So much for smart politicians...

This post is getting long, so bear with me plz:
Now this is a theory of mine of ONE reason why smog levels are rising in Toronto. I would strongly guess that as in most US cities, and also in Norway, SUV's are becoming more and more popular. It's should come to noones surprise that these cars pollute more, since they combust much more gasoline than smaller cars. This is doubtly the single reason, but a likely co-factor.
Haha.. I think I might have contradicted my self a little:
quote:"Smog problems do not entirely depend on the size of the city or the type of carpark it has."
qute2:"SUV's are becoming more and more popular"
Sorry about that. I guess what I want to say is that a city could have pollution problems even though there are quite few private cars driving in the center.
There's actually quite a bit of traffic in Toronto. I live on Parkside Drive and we have busy traffic 24 hours a day. Of course it effects the air. You can't breathe downtown. We're leaving the city.
Please can someone tell me -

Does Canada / Ontario still use leaded petrol?

Does Canada have any vehicle emission controls?

Just wondering...
The probligo: My understanding is that the use of leaded petrol (what we call "gasoline," as you know) was phased out several years ago, and there are also extensive emission controls. If you are interested in the details, a lot of info is available at government websites such as http://www.ene.gov.on.ca , http://www.ec.gc.ca , and http://www.ec.gc.ca/pdb/npri/npri_home_e.cfm . As usual, I somewhat exaggerated the case for polemical purposes (though I didn't exaggerate the effects on myself). There is actually a lot of work being done by government bodies. More specifically, there are a lot of good people within government who are trying to get some work done. Their efforts, however, are quite frequently thwarted by conservative and pro-business attitudes of their superiors.
It is not always easy to know when politicians should support business and when not. I would like to take Norway as an example. Most (maybe as much as 75%) of the Norwegian population lives in the southern half of the country. Therefore there is little business opportunities in the north. Ofcourse most of the fishing industry resides in the northern part, but it's not nearly as lucrative as it used to be. Now several oil companies want to start extracting natrual gas, and some petroleum in the northern norway regions. A huge natrual gas field called "Snøvit/Snowwhite" is already in production. The huge amount of manpower and infrastructure required for the construction of all the facilities required for gas extraction gave poor communities a great economical upswing. It is predicted that extension of production other areas in northern norway will greatly stimulate the economy of the towns and cities in these regions. However, the ocean this far north is extremely fragil, and environmentalist organization say that production buildup could damage severely damage the sealife. Ofcurse, the oil companies are aware of this, and therefore only natrual gas, no petroleum extraciton is performed so far. But it is expected that the norwegian government will recieve request for this activity in norther norway soon.
Here you reach a great conflict of political interest, should you help stimulate the economy of northern norway, or should all extraction of natural resources in this region be forbidden, to conserve nature.
I believe this is a very though decision...
Al, I understand where you are coming from in terms of Toroto and pollution.

Despite the fact that NZ likes to promote its "clean and green" image not all goes that way. One would imagine that a city stuck on a narrow squeak of land between two major oceans and open to every little draught that zephyrs past would not have a pollution problem. Well I can sit in the traffic on my way towork in a morning and look out over the central isthmus area and not be able to see into the brown haze. We are not a "BIG" city, some 1.4 million in the region (of four cities).

NZ also has very high asthma and related health problems, but they are not restricted to the major cities. What is being shown in recent research (released within the last month or so) is a possible correlation between lifestyle and immunity based diseases. The connect (as I understand it) is between T1 immunity and T2 immunity. If I get it right the first is the primary system; defence against external bugs, bacteria, viruses etc. The T2 system is that which controls internal immunity processes - cancers, autoimmune processes, that kind of thing.

The connect is that in people with asthma the T1 immunity system is weaker than the T2. People without asthma have the T1 immunity stronger.

The T1 system develops during the first 10 years of life, so the cure for asthma could be as simple as letting the kids get dirty, eat some of the garden, a few worms, try the odd roach... you get the picture...
Interesting, Probligo. One of history's most famous asthmatics was Marcel Proust. I suppose his upper middle class and upwardly mobile parents would never have dreamt of letting little Marcel get dirty or, God forbid, eat small fauna.
Im suffering from asthma, but so lucky that I live in Malaysia. Greeneries still abundance around us. Im waiting for your comment on the Egypt's bombing. Any writting on that issue?
Hv a great day, and happy weekend.

Thanks Rush Murad for your comments, and I am glad that your environment helps your condition. I would like to ask you to read all of the posts and comments in this blog (or at least as many of them as you find interesting). After reading them, you will see that I have only one interest in this blog, which is political analysis. I define "political analysis" as analysis of issues from the point of view of the class struggle and the conflict between opposing forces in society. I write posts only when I feel I can make some worthwhile or interesting contribution to the analyis of issues from the angle of class conflict, because that is how I see the world.
Cool blog and very good links
Greetings from Greece
holler frm singapore.

enlightened after reading some issues. some of the stuff you say, lol you cldget arrested if you say tt in singapore. you're lucky freedom of speech is allowed in ur country. back in ours its merely a farcical facade.
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