Energy companies believe fossil fuels are king and reject measures that would hamstring their dominance, while renewable energy gurus say, "Too bad, it's gotta be done."
Meanwhile, J.Q. Voter, wavers. He likes clean air but wants a stable economy, jobs and the San Francisco Giants back in the World Series.
"Where the proof?" he asks.
The California Air Resources Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believe they can track down a piece of the answer through a relatively massive project measuring the pollutants and greenhouse gases fouling California's once azure skies. The $20 million CalNex project dispatched airplanes, ships and researchers to, as officials said, "examine the nexus between air pollution and climate change."
The project took three years to plan. Monitoring started in early May and continued through June, involving four airplanes, NOAA's ocean-going research ship the Atlantis, two land-based air monitoring super sites -- one in Kern County -- and more than 150 highly trained scientists.
Eileen McCauley, manager of the research division at the Air Board, said she expects some preliminary results from the CalNex 2010 study will be presented at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco in December. She said the California Air Resources Board plans to continue research to produce a report for policy makers on CalNex findings.
The follow-up report is meant to address "emissions (both greenhouse gases and ozone and aerosol precursors), important atmospheric transformation and climate processes, and transport and meteorology," according to documents.
Determining the effects of a warming environment is complex in the extreme. The white paper describing the CalNex project touches on the difficulty researchers have determining how to separate out the cloud of cooling aerosols over population centers from the warming swirling nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and microscopic particulates.
But just about anybody who spent any time around the subject realizes it won't be easy to solve or explain. Our habits as consumers, travelers and entrepreneurs have led us down a comfortable path. Now that road looks a little like the a highway in Canada's Yukon Territories at night in a snowstorm at 35 below -- uncertain at best.
350.org explains that scientists believe that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity, but the site places the current level at 388 ppm.
“The goal is to provide decision makers with the information they need to develop win/win strategies that address both climate and air quality,” said A.R. Ravishankara, director of NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division, in a statement.
Officials said the CalNex data will help scientists better understand atmospheric-chemical transformations and climate processes and help the Air Board measure greenhouse gases, traditional air pollutants and their causes.
But don't expect miracles even after results are posted and regulations announced. Coming to terms with the state of the environment is something many of us would rather avoid. The answer might mean we'd have to adapt.
Not that it can't be done. It's just not easy.