Air so thick you can slice it

The Associated Press ran a photo recently of Tehran that showed a skyline clogged with brown, air so thick you expect Porky Pig to saw a hole in it and say, "Tha-tha-that's all folks."

I pulled it up on Huffington Post.

The scene is reminiscent of Beijing and many other heavily populated cities across the world on days without rain or wind to push the bad air out. It offers an indication of what awaits should we continue current energy practices. In fact, here in the San Joaquin Valley we have our own bad air days. Some worse than others.

Last month, Fresno Bee reporter Mark Grossi posted an item saying Fresno ranked No. 2 in the country for ozone violations. Not bad but certainly not good.

Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley don't get a lot wind. The Valley's a basin bordered by mountains. Bad air travels from the Bay Area and even China and vacations here.

Tehran's got similar physical issues: towering mountains that trap stagnant air, more than 12 million people and "seemingly round-the-clock traffic jams of more than 3 million cars and buses," according to the AP story accompanying the photo.

Iran's leaders don't like the problem and are reportedly trying to do something about it. Good luck.

Mexico City used to have the same problems but has done a decent job of clearing the haze, chalking up some of the cleanest air in the past 20 years. The birds no longer fall dead from the sky. I got that last bit from a story by McClatchy Newspapers' Tim Johnson.

The point here is that there is an alternative. Legislative changes work to a degree, but the average consumer has a huge potential role. Energy efficiency is a movement that's been around since my hero Art Rosenfeld, California Energy Commission commissioner, started moving the state in that direction decades ago. Efforts to use better lighting and upgrade electricity gobbling devices to more efficient versions can easily carve a third off energy bills.

Less spent used means less power generated. More efficient gasoline engines also save big. Who knows, electric cars may just catch on. Then again, Congress may start paying attention to the concept of buying local and encourage development of policies that encourage domestic natural gas production via fracking and we'll start converting gas burners to compressed natural gas.

There's also algae fuel and a long list of other interesting possibilities. But a little leadership goes a long way. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Change Champion Award for his work creating the state's Global Warming Solutions Act.

By itself, the Act, which also goes by the name AB 32, won't clear the air. But it's a start and is encouraging renewable energy projects. And groups like 350.org are encouraging projects and awareness, helping lift the veil on a problem we can all see but would rather not face.

The other day driving east toward my home in Clovis, I saw the Sierra Mountains covered in snow. Clear as a good day in Anchorage looking up at the Chugach Range. No haze.

It'd be nice to have more of those. I'll be residents of Tehran, Beijing and Los Angeles would enjoy the same.

Photo: AP