Edging West

Adventure + Culture + Environment

Tag: California

A More Invisible Security Risk: Air

Statistics can often present a cold and detached understanding of conflict and chaos. At the same time, it offers needed perspective in times of fear. We have experienced a busy year of shattering violence, and the country continues entrenched and emotional debate over gun control and terrorism. Not to downplay the gravity of these layered issues, but an arguably greater danger remains.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an estimated 50,000 premature deaths are linked to air pollution in the Unites States each year. More specifically, the World Health Organization recorded 56,618 air pollution related deaths in 2008. In comparison, just over 11,000 gun-related homicides occurred in 2011, and terrorism, our collective greatest fear, accounted for nearly 40 deaths in the U.S. between 2002 and 2010, according to the Global Terrorism Database.

Gun violence and terrorism are crucial issues to manage, but do they necessitate such a large portion of attention, worry, political capitalization, and dialogue? Let’s take a collected step back and find some perspective, for the battles of our time also include an entrenched campaign to organized our society in a clean, sustainable, and healthy way. It would be great if this too was a patriotic cause, a unified effort, something we applaud when victorious.

One of the most cities in the U.S. for air pollution Image Credit: David Jordan at en.wikipedia

Fresno, CA – One of the worst cities in the U.S. for air pollution.
Image Credit: David Jordan at en.wikipedia

This past December the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a new standard to regulated and reduce levels of soot. The American Lung Association celebrated this new standard, claiming it will prevent 15,000 early deaths a year. This development is significant and just may do more for public safety than so many other security measures that have been designated in the name of.

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Lessons from the Manhattan Project

I have an entrenched bias: I believe that a critical study and evaluation of history is necessary for understanding and grappling with where we were and what we aspire to be. Although  nuanced in countless ways and perceived and debated to serve whatever purpose, our history breaks and flows in a constant direction of almost scientific quality. The evolutionary spirit bends towards justice, peace, and democracy.

Current times seem violent and conflicted, but we should take solace knowing the days of long, epic wars of world powers clashing (hot or cold) seem over. That evolutionary spirit is one of progress. Children grow up today not fearing nuclear annihilation as they did in the 50s and spend less time hovering under desks. Gone too, the era when nuclear testing was a sideshow attraction where tourists rented top floor rooms in Las Vegas hotels to gawk at mushroom clouds glowing and rising in distant deserts of sand and glass.

And we should keep learning. Today NPR reported that the US Congress considered national park designation for three sites pivotal to the Manhattan Project. This too should be viewed as a sign of progress-an indication that we transcend a darker past. Although the initial bill failed, proponents hope for a retry. There is a chance these sites will become a national park in the future and it should be designated so, not as a means to glorify or sanitize our history (as was stated by critics), but as a call to action-an opening for healthy debate on how to engage and reconcile our past. Or maybe a reminder of how we came so close to losing it all?

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Years ago, traveling the dry side of the Sierra Nevadas, I visited the Manzanar National Historic Site in California, one of many designated Japanese internment camps used during World War II. American citizens spend long winters in this high desert locked away without Due Process. American citizens!

A shack of Manzanar

A shack at the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Today much of Manzanar is left for ruin. It is a dilapidated, shadow city of abandon, rundown shacks in perfect rows,  beaten hard against long years of open sun, wind, snow, and sand. Rusty metal scraps scatter the site, along with occasional broken shards of glass from old windows.

Metals scraps left in the yard.

Metals scraps left in the yard.

Despite the standard visitor center, the National Park Service leaves much of the site, by design, to decay slowly, untouched. They strike a perfect balance and succeed, reverently, in managing this site and commemorating a wayward era of compromised principles  I suspect that the National Park Service would do the same with the Manhattan Project National Park. And we should keep learning.

Near the visitor center.

Near the visitor center.