clean air

Better Air, Indoors and Out

Clean air, whether it’s what you breathe inside or out, keeps us healthy, active and happy. Your community can maintain and expand its tree canopy, increase energy efficiency measures and program services, and convert its fleet to ZEVs (zero-emission vehicles). You can also do similar things inside your home and in your backyard. Here, we’ll discuss measures that require you to utilize your green thumb. If you’re not especially gifted in this area, don’t fret! I’ll outline some expert tips.

Inside Your Home
NASA released a Clean Air Study in 1989 that determined which indoor plants best removed toxins, reducing “sick building syndrome”. The list of these plants were originally researched to determine how best to keep the air in space stations clean, but it is usefully in homes as well. NASA recommends keeping one plant for every 100 square feet of living or office space.

**Important for pet owners: make sure to note the last column in this chart!**
Plant, removes:benzene[2]formaldehyde[2][5]trichloroethylene[2]xyleneandtoluene[6]ammonia[6]Toxic to dogs, cats [8]
Chinese evergreen(Aglaonema modestum)Yes[5][18]Yes[5][18]NoNoNotoxic [19]
Variegated snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata'Laurentii')Yes[5]Yes[2]Yes[5]YesNotoxic [22]
Aloe vera (Aloe vera)Yes[32]Yes[1]NoNoNotoxic [33]
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis "Janet Craig")Yes[1]Yes[1]Yes[1]NoNotoxic [34]
Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis "Warneckei")Yes[1]Yes[1]Yes[1]NoNotoxic [34]
English ivy (Hedera helix)YesYes[5]YesYesNotoxic [12]
Devil's ivy, Money plant (Epipremnum aureum)YesYes[2]NoYesNotoxic [15]
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum'Mauna Loa')YesYes[5]YesYesYestoxic [16]
Red-edged dracaena(Dracaena marginata)YesYes[2]YesYesNotoxic [24]
Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana')YesYes[2]YesNoNotoxic [24]
Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)YesYes[5]YesNoNonon-toxic [27]
Florist's chrysanthemum(Chrysanthemum morifolium)YesYes[2][5]YesYesYestoxic [28]
Dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)NoYes[5]NoYesNonon-toxic [9]
Areca palm (Dypsis lutescens)NoYes[5]NoYesNonon-toxic [10]
Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis')NoYes[5]NoYesNonon-toxic [11]
Kimberly queen fern(Nephrolepis obliterata)NoYes[5]NoYesNonon-toxic[citation needed]
Lilyturf (Liriope spicata)NoYesNoYesYesnon-toxic [13]
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)NoYes[2]NoYesNonon-toxic [14]
Flamingo lily (Anthurium andraeanum)NoYesNoYesYestoxic [17]
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)NoYes[2][5]NoYesNonon-toxic [20]
Broadleaf lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)NoYesNoYesYesnon-toxic [21]
Heartleaf philodendron(Philodendron cordatum)NoYes[2]NoNoNotoxic [23]
Selloum philodendron
(Philodendron bipinnatifidum)
NoYes[2]NoNoNotoxic[citation needed]
Elephant ear philodendron(Philodendron domesticum)NoYes[2]NoNoNotoxic[citation needed]
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)[25]NoYes[5]NoYesNotoxic [26]
Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)NoYes[5]NoNoNotoxic [29]
Dendrobium orchids(Dendrobium spp.)NoNoNoYesNonon-toxic[citation needed]
Dumb canes (Dieffenbachiaspp.)NoNoNoYesNotoxic [30]
King of hearts (Homalomena wallisii)NoNoNoYesNotoxic
Moth orchids (Phalaenopsisspp.)NoNoNoYesNonon-toxic [31]
Banana (Musa Oriana)NoYes[1]NoNoNonon-toxic [35]
Chart from: 

Tips for keeping your houseplants alive:
  • Sunlight, sunlight, sunlight. A south-facing window is best for houseplants because the plants will get the brightest and longest stream of natural light. If you don’t have a south-facing window, put your plants wherever they will get as much natural light as possible in your home or office.
  • Water, but not too much. I water my plants every 3 days. This allows the water to seep all the way through the soil and soak it, but not keep it constantly drenched. If you water too much, your plant can become susceptible to root rot and you’ll likely lose your plant quickly. Make sure your plants are in pots with drainage holes at the bottom (like this or this); these types of pots will help get rid of excess liquid.
  • Only fertilize if necessary. Your houseplants should not need fertilization unless they’ve been in the same pot for a long time. You can add a fertilizer spike if your plant is a little wilted, but if you’re really worried about it, take your plant to a local nursery. They will be your expert in this field!
  • Recognize when there’s a problem.
  • See how plants can transform a space?
    Photo Source: HouseBeautiful
    • If you water too much, if your plant tilts a lot and/or if there’s a rotten smell coming from your plant, it could have root rot. Dry out the soil and, if necessary, cut off rotting parts of the roots before replanting.
    • If your plant is leaning towards the sun a little, keep rotating it. Your plant wants as much natural light as it can get! So as long as the lean isn’t extreme, a rotation every few weeks is good.
    • A plant with yellow leaves is another sign of overwatering.
    • A plant losing its leaves usually means its not getting enough sunlight.
    • Use filtered water on your plants as often as possible. Minerals can build up in the soil and cause a white dust to form on your plant. This won’t cause you to lose your plant, but filtered water will minimize this. If you do see buildup or dust on your plant, gently wipe it off with a damp rag; this will allow the leaves to breathe more easily and thrive.

In Your Yard
I’ve written about the importance of maintaining tree canopies before, but this drought seems to complicate the issue. Not to worry! There are plenty of drought resistant plants and trees out there and there are plenty of wonderful guides to help you do this!

Go to this great event!
Photo Source: USGBC-CC
In addition, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Central California (CC) chapter is hosting a Resilient Landscaping: TransformationStrategies and Tools workshop on October 27th in Sanger. It is open to anyone who wants to “save water in style” and, since the workshop will be hosted by the Belmont Nursery, you can pick up some plants for your home, office or yard while you’re there! Plus if you're a USGBC member, you'll save $25! Register HERE.

I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity and spread the word to your community and community leaders! As more residents, business leaders and public agencies invest some time in resilient landscaping, the community will see more water and cost savings. Furthermore, since the plants will get just the amount of water they need and not more (since there’s no more to be had!) the landscape will thrive and help the community look and feel more alive and healthy!

Now that you are equipped with all of this information and the chance to attend a great informational event, how many of you will add plants to your home and transform your yard? What are you favorite indoor and drought-resistant outdoor plants?

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

Here are your WEEkly Updates:
  1. Behind the Meter: The Many Advantages of Energy Benchmarking (audio)
    Carl Weinschenk, the Editor of Energy Manager Today, spent a few minutes this week discussing EnergyScorecardsMinnesota, a web-based energy and water benchmarking and tracking initiative, and the broader world of benchmarking with Jonathan Braman, the VP of Strategic Initiatives at Bright Power.
  2. 2015 Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award Nominations due December 1st
    If you know someone in the air quality community - scientists, professors, legislators, activists, business leaders, and others - who has made a significant lifetime achievement, you can nominate them for an award by completing a nomination form. Since 2001, the California Air Resources Board has annually bestowed the distinguished Haagen-Smit Clean Air Awards to extraordinary individuals for their significant career accomplishments.
  3. Job Opportunity: Business Planning Specialist, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
    The City and County of San Francisco seeks candidates for a Business Planning Specialist in the Power Enterprise, the City's publicly owned electric utility. The position will provide analytical and planning support related to new business opportunities, evaluation of potential infrastructure investments, and development of new energy programs and service offerings. The application and supplemental questionnaire are due Monday 11/23/15.
  4. 11/16 - ARCCA Learning Session: The Ins and Outs of the LA Energy Atlas
    Join ARCCA for a webinar to learn about the LA Energy Atlas - what it took to get it started, how to navigate and best utilize the Atlas, and what the project team is doing next. We're excited to have Krista Kline from the LA Regional Collaborative for Climate Adaptation, Zoe Elizabeth from the CA Center for Sustainable Communities, and Ron Mohr from LA County present on this webinar.
  5. 11/18 - Public Workshop on LGP & REN EM&V Roadmaps
    The Energy Divison will be hosting a call open to the public and in conjunction with its Local Government Stakeholder Advisory Group for the purpose of receiving input on the update to the EM&V Roadmap, REN and LGP chapters.
  6. 12/3 and 12/9 - Webinar on Energy Data for Local Governments (PG&E)
    Learn about energy data available to local governments for greenhouse gas inventories, climate action planning, and energy efficiency activities. By the end of the webinar, participants will have an understanding of the types of data available, how to request data, and the frequency with which PG&E releases new data. Participants will also have the opportunity to ask questions and learn how to provide feedback to PG&E on current and future local government data needs. The training will be offered at two alternate dates and times (click to register): Thursday, December 3rd, 11am-12:15pm and Wednesday, December 9th, 10-11:15am.
  7. Energy Calendar
    If you have any events you would like to see added to this calendar, please send details to

And that is all for this week!

Key to pollution reduction may be making more vintage cars

A well tuned engine produces less pollutants.
I spent most of the Labor Day weekend working on my VW.

Certainly not the pursuit many would choose. But getting the thing back on the road one of my over-riding goals. The next one is cracking that novel. Can't do one without finishing the other. At least, that's the way my mind works.

The engine's back in. The wiring harness is replaced. The engine-insulating tarboard is installed. Rust has been painstakingly removed from the floorboards and Por-15, the rust-murdering paint, applied. The interior heater hoses have been replaced (finally figured out how to source them). I figure the 1974 Super Beetle has several more major weekends before I can haul it off to somebody to put the final touches on the electrical and I can hear it roar to life.

Then it's off to my friend, another class of 1979, in downtown Fresno, Calif. for fresh paint.

All said, this will be a three- or four-year project. But we car guys do what we do. We love this stuff. I'd enjoy nothing better than pulling my bug into the Madera VW show and rubbing shoulders with more aging air-cooled enthusiasts.

Truly, this car is more sculpture than gas-burner. The NOx and related pollutants coming from its dual exhausts have been curtailed significantly.

Yet, that's exactly where many of our current vehicles are headed.  And that may be a good thing for the environment. Economics and regulations will be removing most of the older vehicles on the road that don't have support from nostalgic collectors like myself to restore and repurpose them as spares or show cars.

Reducing emissions

It's hard to imagine the discontinued Ford Excursion finding many such fans. Or the AMC Pacer. At one point, I day dreamed of taking a rocket launcher to that particular model. But the Edsel will remain. So will the 1955-57 Chevy and a host of others.

In California, truckers who own older trucks will have to either buy newer ones or get their existing rigs retrofit with filters to reduce NOx and particulates. State laws will be kicking all the old rigs without 2010 standards off the road. The idea is to get rid the dirtiest trucks in the next couple of years.

New heavy duty semi trucks, with nameplates like Kenworth, Freightliner, Peterbilt and Volvo, have engines that produce 80 percent fewer pollutants than many of the models now on the road. Their engines are more efficient and far cleaner, leading to cleaner air in the transportation corridors on which they transport most of the nation's consumer goods, agricultural materials and manufactured products.

Clean air is the result

Once the old trucks are retired, the rewards in fresher air, especially in the smog-laden San Joaquin Valley, will be evident. However, the people who own the existing older trucks aren't flocking to new and improved models. A new truck costs about $140,000, a used one with a cleaner engine that meets 2007 standards, costs about $80,000.

That's big money to an independent operator who works as many days as he or she can hauling everything from petroleum to corn. Many of them in California have trouble paying their Department of Motor Vehicles registrations on a yearly basis, opting for the monthly option. And shipments aren't guaranteed. Meanwhile, fuel costs are going up.

But change is coming. I work with the Proposition 1B program, which helps truckers comply with California's new clean air laws. The grants I work with either give truckers a grant to buy a new truck or reconfigure an existing one. The money not only helps the truckers but also the economy. Dealers benefit, too.

Consumers adapt

Truckers aren't the only drivers facing change. Consumers must also adapt to changing conditions. Fuel prices and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will prove a steady influence in coming years.

Back in 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the EPA clamped down on national fuel economy standards under the Clean Air Act. The rules, dubbed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, program, established increasingly stringent fuel economy standards for 2012 through 2016 model-year vehicles.

The rule requires automakers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 5 percent a year, with the goal of reaching an average 34.1 mpg for the industry for model year 2016.

Consumers may be paying attention. More likely they're sick of paying for 25 gallons every three days to keep a beastly SUV filled up. Check out some of the used-car lots. See any little cars? Here in Fresno/San Joaquin Valley area, I see a lot of pretty nice Chevy Suburbans for decent prices.

Small car sales increase

August 2012 showed an increase in sales for smaller automobiles and trucks with domestic manufacturers posting double-digit increases over the same period a year earlier. A look at analysis done by the Washington Post shows gains for Ford with the redesigned Escape, Chrysler may have a hit with its resurrected Dart (good friend and motorhead Scott Selph bought one in Oklahoma City) and Chevy did well with various crossovers.

Volkswagen's sale's increased 62.5 percent, mostly on the back of the new Passat but I'm wondering about the redesigned bug. Toyota also saw a big swing upward with a 40.2 percent increase.

Interesting. Perhaps fuel consumption will actually drop. Certainly these new vehicles will make a difference, cleaning the air by spewing far less pollution.

But overall, don't expect much change in the overall direction of fuel use. Vintage car enthusiasts will continue to pursue their hobbies, keeping a pretty significant sector of craftsmen and women in business and a bunch of people happy in their garages. Of course, this old car crew will continue to be a pretty vocal proponent into maintaining a supply of gasoline.

And hopefully, I'll get the bug back on the road. My son is 15 and thinks it's the coolest rig on the road. He's got good taste.

EVI works to electrify U.S. commercial transport

Electric Vehicles International is busy and plans to hire additional workers.


The Stockton, Calif.-based zero-emission commercial truck builder has deals in the works with Frito-Lay North America and UPS. The orders and its development of a hybrid truck mean more jobs are on the way, adding 30 people to existing staff of 40.

Frank Jenkins, EVI vice president of sales and marketing, talks about his company's progress and why it's bullish on California and the future of electric vehicles.

The direction of the EV industry

The electrification of America's roadways has distinct components, at least from Jenkins' perspective. "When we talk about our industry, it's diverse," he says. "You have cars, light-duty trucks, then you have the heavy-duty" trucks that EVI builds.

The automotive sector is filled with the likes of the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Tesla's Roadster and upcoming sedan and SUV, plus a bunch of others waiting in the wings. Hybrids appear to be morphing a bit, too. Toyota's Prius is debuting multiple models, even offering a plug-in version.

Jenkins says electric vehicle demand will fluctuate. It's struggling somewhat now as is evidenced by General Motors' decision to put manufacturing of the Volt on temporary hiatus. Yet reports of Volt sales show a bounce with March sales setting a record. "The decision to buy is based on emotion more than anything else," Jenkins says.

A truck, on the other hand, is a tool for business. "It's an asset they use to get the job done," he says. "It has to make good business sense." And "it's a lot easier for a commercial customer to buy one of these."

While the truck market took a hit with the economy, it's since mostly recovered. Jenkins says the forecast for medium-duty  is pretty large -- "40 percent to 2020." The majority of that growth will be in the United States and Asia, mainly "because it makes good business sense because of significant savings in fuel and maintenance costs."

Diesel or electric?

Electric trucks are great for consistent routes. The range of the EVI MD, for instance, is about 90 miles. Its top speed is 65 mph, and it uses a 99 kilowatt hour lithium phosphate battery system from Austin, Texas-based Valence Technology.

Jenkins predicts more trucking companies will make the switch to electric once they better understand the segment's value. He says return on investment for electric driveline components is three to five years. The cost of the electric trucks is about twice that of diesel, but, Jenkins says, as sales increase the price differential will decline. "The biggest part of that cost is batteries, and they're forecast to drop," he says. "It's based on economies of scale."

Jenkins says New York and New Jersey offer companies incentives that help his industry and others as they work to clean the air. In California, where clean air is also a big political issue, efforts also are under way to promote electrification of the roadways.

In fact, California awarded Electric Vehicles International $1,153,053 to design, develop and deploy a range-extended electric vehicle powertrain for medium-duty truck applications through its Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. EVI proposes to build 10 Range-extended liquified natural gas medium-duty pickup trucks, using the Valence lithium-phosphate batteries for a 100 to 115 mile range. EVI is to integrate the new powertrain into an industry standard pickup truck and will deploy prototypes for on-site testing with partners, according to a California Energy Commission report.


The good thing about being a pioneer in the business is the lack of competition. Currently, it appears big-name truck manufacturers are sitting back and waiting for smaller outfits like EVI and Smith Electric Vehicles Corp., based in Kansas City, Mo. to take all the initial niche-building risks.

Smith announced the launch of its Newton Step Van in Indianapolis at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March. The company has inked a deal with FedEx Express that inspired Bryan Hansel, CEO and chairman of Smith, to say Smith looks forward "to successful vehicle deployments that demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of fleet electrification."

The Newton Step Van  has a range similar to that of EVI.

In addition, Freightliner has developed the M2 106 Hybrid powered by the Cummins ISB 6.7 liter engine. The company also has worked with Tesla on an all-electric version.

EVI's hybrid Range Extended Electric Vehicle, or REEV, developed in partnership with the CEC and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has that market covered as well. The plug-in hybrid boasts 40 miles in all-electric mode with extended range in hybrid mode limited only by fuel tank capacity. It offers 30 percent fuel savings.

The potential to making a believer of a company like Frito-Lay

It's big. But first, an electric truck must prove itself, Jenkins says. "It has to carry that load. It has to meet their needs in terms of performance. And we've done that." The next step is paying for the product. Jenkins says a company must achieve its return on investment and that will come with volume.

More trucks sold mean the price will drop. Once you get commercial customers buying the product and the volume up, there will be no need for incentives, he says. EVI also has the added ability to adapt a product to the specific needs of a client. All the specialists and engineers who know the product inside and out are on staff. They know how everything works and how it can be tweaked to achieve perfection.

Jenkins calls it "optimized driveability."

From GM to electric

Jenkins is a veteran of the industry. For 28 years he worked for General Motors in its fleet and commercial segment. There, he developed a majority of its marketing programs so he's quite familiar with what it takes to get a buyer to notice a new rig and plunk down the cash.

"It's the industry I love and the business I know," he says. "And I'm a true believer in the growth of hybrids and EVs."

Jenkins is also a believer in the importance of shedding some of the nation's reliance on foreign oil in the name of security -- of the nation and the economy. "We don't have to rely solely on gas," he says.

The biggest hurdle

"The price point," Jenkins says. "You have to build a product to get the job done, and we're pretty good at that. That's just a given."

He says past manufacturers on the international market produced equipment that didn't meet expectations, making EVI have to prove itself. "They have to try it and drive it," he says of prospective clients. "I have to jump through hoops to prove it can do the job."

If EVI’s success continues, there is a chance more companies may be attracted to the San Joaquin Valley.

Jenkins says he's noticing increased interest from key players. But he cautions, it doesn't mean a big company will move operations into Stockton. However, it may mean a big company will seek out EVI to work jointly on a project.

Energy innovation: Dinosaurs are not the future, clean energy is

When I bought my little rotting-into-the-earth beach house on Camano Island, Wash., I discovered not only did it not have any insulation other than some magazines nailed inside the walls but that it had dreaded and inefficient electric heat.

Two things about Washington: It used to have cheap electricity and when it got cold, those in timber country put another log on the fire. I rebuilt the circa 1903 728-square-foot house when I should have burned it down. But it did show me that that new technology in insulation, weatherizing and building can lower heating bills dramatically.

Actually, I still used wood heat. But it was far less, maybe just a cord and a half a year. In Fairbanks, we used a dozen or more for an 18-by-32-foot cabin.

The nation's builders are learning the same lesson, jumping on the innovative Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, ratings system promoted by the U.S. Green Building Council. Others also are catching on, embracing energy efficiency and learning that clean energy can be competitive and create jobs -- not to mention its ability to promote national security.

Super-insulated solutions 

As a reporter, I stumbled on a bunch of alternative builders who fabricated super-insulated houses that needed almost no heat or cooling. Yet, building officials thought these were so obscure that the home owners were put through multiple delays and reviews.

Something out of the ordinary even in the 1990s proved vexing for those in charge. If it didn't have 2-by-6 dimensional lumber in the walls and factory-made trusses, a house was suspect.

Now, that's changed in many regions as reflected by the advances being made in New York and other progressive cities. Even going off the grid isn't considered counter-culture anymore. It's being done by industrial parks, colleges and residences with solar and fuel cell systems.

Smarter and greener

One of my favorite bloggers, Brian Keane, president of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit SmartPower, wrote a piece inspired by a recent issue of Scientific American, which ran a story about "Better, greener, smarter cities." He praises the story and the anecdotes about various inner-city efficiencies while also underlining the difficulties of expanding those practices beyond high-density living areas.

"It will take some work, but if we are to fulfill the expectation of a better, greener, smarter city, we all need to get on board," Keane writes.

The nation has made progress, but the challenge is so steep as to boggle the mind. Humanity is pushing hard to fill earth's skies with the legacy of burned fossil fuels at a rate that alarms scientists.

Hothouse earth

"If we continue down this road, there really is no uncertainty. We're headed for the Eocene. And we know what that's like," says Matt Huber, a climate modeler at Purdue University who was interviewed by National Geographic for a piece by Robert Kunzig entitled "Hothouse Earth."

Kunzig's story chronicles what researchers know about the earth 56 million years ago when a massive spike in carbon dioxide pushed global temperatures higher, resulting in massive geologic change, extinction and adaption. Climate change then turned the Arctic and Antarctic into tropical jungles.

Kunzig reports that Huber uses a climate model, developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, "to forecast what might happen if humans choose to burn off all the fossil fuel deposits." Huber's results are inconclusive and "still infernal," but his "reasonable best guess at a bad scenario" doesn't sound pleasant. Much of China, India, southern Europe and the United States, would experience summer average temperatures "well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, night and day, year after year."

We remain far from the Eocene's level of atmospheric carbon, but we're pushing to free it with current energy trends.

Moving the planet

The folks at and one of its founders, author Bill McKibben, bring this subject up every chance they get. The gist of their argument is even if the world stopped polluting yesterday, the planet would still be burdened with way more climate-changing carbon dioxide that would take nature decades or more to scrub.

The organization's Moving Planet events the last week in September brought many thousands out in support for a reasonable future with a stable climate, clean air and clean energy. The activists pictured in videos and photos are relatively low profile. They're young and riding bikes and running around.

As they displace aging Baby Boomers, especially now that so many of us have been laid off from professions -- like newspapering -- that fell behind the technological curve, these young people will evolve into the decision makers, entrepreneurs and community-minded types who will shift society into a more forward-thinking mode.

At least I hope so. I can totally see the economic benefits to McKibben's No. 1 foe, a trans-Canada/Midwest U.S. pipeline from the oil/tar sands to port in the Gulf of Mexico. I was raised in Fairbanks during construction of the Pipeline. The amount of money and illegal drugs dumped into that state's previously frozen economy was amazing. I can also see the economic prospects of a gas line through Canada. Heck, ask anybody from my era in the state from Anchorage and the Interior and we'd say, "Hell yes."

I'd vote to build both pipelines, then render them immediately obsolete with cheap renewables. That could amount to a form of fraud, but it would be satisfying.

Pebble problems

And I see the sense, economically, in developing the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska. Gold, molybdenum and copper are a valuable commodity and it would put many of the region's residents to work. This proposal, however, makes me sick imagining the potential catastrophe to the Bristol Bay fishing industry and Bering Sea should the mine's tailings ponds burst and contaminate some of the world's richest waterways.

There's a limit to what we can do in the name of the economics. We've already stuck our nose into the Middle East, spending billions for the opportunity to access the region's crude oil.

At some point, the long view must be acknowledged. Our rate of deforestation and general ecological pillage in the name of progress has to be redirected. The consequences have become increasingly evident. Even island nations are starting to sweat their existence.

The answer is not a dinosaur

The first episode of Fox's new series "Terra Nova" chronicles a family's desire to leave the toxic world of 2149 for one overrun with dinosaurs. Present-day life on the planet is dying. Most animals are extinct and the air is poison. The only hope is the past. (I lost interest in the show after the hero, Jim Shannon, played by Jason O'Mara actually gets to the new-old world.)

While that sounds a little like Barry Goldwater's philosophy, I'd prefer one in which oil is used simply to produce polymers and products that don't brown the skies or pollute groundwater. One where the sun is the primary driver of power and the only thing we burn is hydrogen.

I'd also like to see interstellar space travel, but, hey, I'm a dreamer.

Photo: Promotional look at the cast of Fox's "Terra Nova."

Air alert: Clean air, clean air is (not) everywhere

Environment California released a ranking of the nation's smoggiest cities, and Fresno made No. 5.

Not No. 1. And that's important because as they say in sports, "If you ain't No. 1 you ain't nothin'." Or something like that. So I can handle it. Then again, I'm not really into sports. I write this thinking about a song in "Hair," not that there's anything wrong with that.

This week Fresno received an official Air Alert warning from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The air? Unhealthy.

When I got off the plane from Seattle (by way of creepy Gate 44 at LAX, but that's a different story), the air tasted hot and a little like dirt. I felt vindicated when I read Fresno Bee reporter Mark Grossi's story soon after. I had helped drive my son to college at Seattle University on Capital Hill.

"Heat and dirty air Tuesday triggered the first violations of an expensive ozone standard this summer in the Valley – and the problems could continue," Grossi wrote.

Smog around here is as common as heat. We live with it. We revel in days when we can catch a clear glimpse of the magnificent Sierra. And we suffer health-related maladies because of it.

This particular rant is a result of my suffering a sore throat, constant sneezing and eyes that feel like sandpaper. And no, this is not the result of me trying to replicate the fun the guys had on the "Hangover II."

That would be easy to fix. Just stay away from Zach Galifianakis, wolf pack of one.

Solving this problem will take a heck of a lot more work. And I'm not going to say stop driving the car. That's hardly practical. I love driving my car. In fact, I was just listening to the song "Brand New Car" from the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge album and thinking how awesome it was.

But I digress. I just finished a post on all the amazing things happening in the clean energy realm. I even read through GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman's jobs plan to sleuth out his ideas on clean energy. I like the guy. He's into pegging energy to national security and not a big fan of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But that's OK. He says he wants federal taxes to be "flatter, fairer, simpler and more conducive to growth." Seriously, wouldn't that be nice?

Personally, I like the Clean Air Act. President Nixon was a visionary in that respect. I want clean air. I want a lot of things.

And we can have it all. At least that's what EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

"In contrast to doomsday predictions, history has shown, again and again, that we can clean up pollution, create jobs, and grow our economy all at the same time," she says.

Sounds good to me. Now where's that inhaler?

Photo: Courtesy Sarah Leen, National Geographic

Breathe deep, our polluted air could use a filter

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley regularly registers in the unhealthy range.

I'm quite familiar with this because I run every day. When at about 2 or 3 miles it feels like somebody's punched me in the throat and chest (and I feel decent otherwise), I know it's a bad air day.

Air quality is just an indicator, a very noticeable one, that's saying, "Hey, chill on the pollution." We're topping off on bad ozone, the colorless gas that forms near the ground when the emissions of cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries and chemical plants react chemically in sunlight. There's also an increasing load of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and particle pollution.

Runner's cough

At first, I thought I was just getting old. I'm 50. But then I started asking around. No, runners say, you feel bad probably because of the air. This is Fresno, they say, where the nearby majestic Sierra are often masked by haze of murky gray/white/brown.

News reports here never fail to record the ups and downs of the color-coded Air Quality Index. Moderate means it will be a good day. But we take the next level, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, in stride and only occasionally rebel when we're told it reaches the next level of just plain Unhealthy.

Giving doctors more business

We're tough. Sure. Our air gives our kids asthma and fills doctors' offices with a raft of health maladies. Both my strapping sons have asthma. My 18-year-old, Calvin, finally was tested and was determined to have horrible allergies to just about everything carried in the air and a nasty case of asthma.

He hadn't been able to run more than maybe 2 miles without collapsing. I thought, "What a wuss." I was wrong. Not the first time. With medication he's now powering through easy sub 7-minute miles at 95 degrees with ease. I should have known. This kid has no body fat, was a gymnast, then a diver when he got too big for the constant flips.

But drugs aren't really a solution. I developed asthma too since my move here, and taking prescription drugs just makes me feel like I'm deteriorating.

Asthma on the rise

In an interview with, Paul Epstein, a doctor at Harvard Medical School and author of "Changing Planet, Changing Health," said that asthma and allergies are on the rise. The reason: increasing CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Epstein said cases of asthma in the United States have more than doubled since 1980.

And the increased harshness of the seasons -- hotter in the summer, colder in the winter -- are driving other problems like more weeds and bugs. Wonderful stuff.

All in all, it's not altogether encouraging. But I'm an optimistic guy; sometimes my wife calls it unrealistic.

Solutions are available

There is a solution to all this. The mantra reduce, reuse, recycle is just a start. We've got more in the tool box. Energy efficiency measures are now pretty readily available to just about anyone. I'm now replacing all my halogen lighting fixtures when they blow out with the miserly LED bulbs. They're more expensive but they use way less electricity.

Solar technology is making significant advances in affordability and efficiency and soon may be reasonable enough for slow adopters like me to say, "OK, what the heck?" I'm personally intrigued by the possibility of super efficient solar panels on the roof of an electric vehicle rendering it permanently mobile until the sun goes down. Then battery power would offer 100-mile range.

Yet, I'm old school. I still believe we have an inescapable future dependent upon burning stuff. That alliance will continue I'm told, whether I like it or not. I still get a charge out of starting a blazing fire in a wood stove or camp site, good smokey flames get rid of bugs. And petroleum has its benefits. For instance, I love my cars.

However, I'd love to break the death grip the Middle East has on our economy, our transportation network and our elected officials. Efficiencies could lessen that and alternatives like biofuels and even natural gas give us options.

Ringing the bell

While the debate over our fuel/alternative fuel mix is important, the fact is we as a society still need to reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. That little thing called climate change keeps ringing the bell. My hacking cough reminds me that clean air would be a good thing.

Funny how I never thought how good I had it as a kid. Either beachcombing on Kodiak Island or clamboring over ancient gold mining equipment in Ester, Alaska, the clean air never registered.

I took it for granted. Now I can't.

Businesses lend support to Clean Air Act

Traditionally, the relationship between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and American business has been turbulent, marked more often by conflict than collaboration.

That may be changing.

The emergence of green energy into the mainstream and efforts by business to embrace sustainability appears to have led to a thawing in relations between the two camps. This is reflected by today's news that organizations representing more than 60,000 U.S. businesses are planning to pledge support for the Clean Air Act, which turns 40 this year.

The groups have expressed concern that the EPA's half-year delay of pending ozone, or smog, rules will be costly to U.S. companies. They have cited the delay of an ozone pollution rule "will result in sick workers and family members, resulting in lost workdays, lower productivity and other adverse bottom-line impacts for companies," according to a statement.

A press conference is planned Wednesday. Streaming audio will be available at 1 p.m. at