Do We Really Want To Be China?

Here in SoCal pollution was so bad it was a national joke. Nearby mountains disappeared in a brownish haze. No more.


A favorite target of the political right is the EPA. Just yesterday in a hearing with the EPA administrator, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said:

Sessions: When we go to our states, the group we have the most complaints about from our constituents — whether it’s highway people, whether it’s farmers, whether it’s energy people — is the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s an [agency of] extraordinary overreach. And you apparently are unaware of the pushback that’s occurring in the real world.

Of course many businesses dislike the EPA. It’s an agency made to primarily say, “No!” In this case, no is a good thing.

Wikipedia summarizes some of the changes to what we breath from 1970 to 2006:

  • carbon monoxide emissions fell from 197 million tons to 89 million tons
  • nitrogen oxide emissions fell from 27 million tons to 19 million tons
  • sulfur dioxide emissions fell from 31 million tons to 15 million tons
  • particulate emissions fell by 80%
  • lead emissions fell by more than 98%

As a kid growing up in Queens I watched soot from dozens of chimneys as the apartment buildings in my neighborhood burned their trash every afternoon. Today we’d be shocked. Then, it was standard operating procedures.

Here in SoCal pollution was so bad it was a national joke. The photo at the top of this entry is Downtown Los Angeles in the 70s. Nearby mountains disappeared in a brownish haze.

No more.

Our air still needs help, but the trend is in the right direction. Today, much of SoCal’s 21st Century pollution actually floats over the Pacific from China and the rest of industrialized Asia.

It costs more money to keep emissions down. In business that cost comes directly from profits. No wonder business hates the EPA.

But, do we really want to be China?

beijing smog-w1920-h1400

Second Guessing Knock Offs

In the past, I’ve talked about buying knockoff watches and other ‘almost’ things on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. You may decide for yourself whether my purchases have been good or not.

I really didn’t think there was harm in what I was doing. I wasn’t going to buy the high end, name brand, real deal anyway. I find it tough to believe anyone’s buying the Roleckcs and eschewing the Rolex. They certainly never lost a sale from me.

In the past I heard shadow stories about how buying knockoffs support al-Qaeda. Seriously, is there a story with less credence?

Here’s the part of the equation I never thought about. Knockoffs aren’t limited to designer clothes and accessories. There are knockoff drugs and auto parts being made. These knockoffs replace items that provide ‘mission critical’ functions.

My watches come from China (though the case may say otherwise). So did the knockoff Colgate toothpaste, with poisonous additive. Did one beget the other?

If my $30 watch fails, who cares? It’s different if it’s my Lipitor or airplane engine component.

We have become very dependent on the Chinese to make stuff for us. They do, on the cheap. But we’re also buying into their way of doing business, which doesn’t seem to have the same respect for intellectual property as we’re used to. On top of that, there is little regard for the manufacturing employees&#185, much less the consumers at the end of the trail.

Corners are cut. Ingredients aren’t what they seem. The controls we expect aren’t in place. Does anyone police it?

I don’t want to think my purchases encouraged this… but maybe they did

It’s troubling. I’ll admit it.

&#185 – A nameless friend, in China to produce some news stories, visited a plant where workers were plating metal, dipping it, along with their unprotected hands and arms, into a mysterious chemical solution. As toothless as EPA and OSHA are, I can’t imaging that happening here.

My Trashy Story

Every week, on Friday, our trash goes to the curb. Every other week it’s supposed to be accompanied by recycling. It doesn’t work that way in our household.

Whether it’s our distance from the curb or the amount of recycled newspapers we have (we subscribe to both the New Haven Register or New York Times) or maybe all the boxes we get because of online shopping, going to the curb bi-weekly doesn’t work. So all of this recyclable material piles up in the garage. A few times a year we stuff it into the SUV and I drive it to the transfer station.

Transfer station, what a lovely phrase. It’s so much more genteel than town dump.

I drove up to the transfer station this morning only to find the new policy – no newspapers. I had an SUV full of recyclables, and of course, the supermarket bags of newspapers were on top!

I unloaded the 20 or so bags of newspapers to get to the cardboard and other material underneath. At this point the transfer station folks took pity on me and found a place… a transfer station loophole if you will… that allowed me to drop the papers off. From now on it’s newspapers to the street, I suppose.

I want to be a good citizen, but it is increasingly difficult to follow the rules. In fact, it would be much easier to hide the newspapers and cardboard and bottles with our weekly trash. I’m sure a lot of people do just that. It also always strikes me as a little ironic that the two most talked about recycled products are made from sand (glass) or grow on trees (paper).

I know this is supposed to be good for the environment, and I’m for that. But, is it really? Is this just a feel good exercise with no payoff… or negative payoff?

From “Recycling Is Garbage” – New York Times Magazine, June 30, 1996:

Every time a sanitation department crew picks up a load of bottles and cans from the curb, New York City loses money. The recycling program consumes resources. It requires extra administrators and a continual public relations campaign explaining what to do with dozens of different products — recycle milk jugs but not milk cartons, index cards but not construction paper. (Most New Yorkers still don’t know the rules.) It requires enforcement agents to inspect garbage and issue tickets. Most of all, it requires extra collection crews and trucks. Collecting a ton of recyclable items is three times more expensive than collecting a ton of garbage because the crews pick up less material at each stop. For every ton of glass, plastic and metal that the truck delivers to a private recycler, the city currently spends $200 more than it would spend to bury the material in a landfill.

I don’t know what to think. I want to do what’s right, but I am really not sure. Until I know otherwise, I will follow the rules.

In the meantime, part of our recycling life at home will have to change. Newspapers to the curb. I can hardly wait for the first really big rain on a Thursday night.

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Facilitator… That’s Me

I’m not sure what the proper term is – emcee, host, moderator? I personally like facilitator, though I can’t give you the exact definition of the word. Whatever it is, I did it today, as I shepherded a roundtable discussion on air quality at Southern Connecticut State University. I think it went very well.

This is a skill I never knew I had until Dave Brody, producer for Inside Space, had me moderate a few “Star Councils”; panel discussions on space&#185. Once, I told a panelist (I think it was Bob Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society), “I’m not calling on you until I actually see smoke coming out of your ears.”

My approach is to be the opposite of anyone I’m questioning. I don’t care what your beliefs are, I’m your antithesis, and I’ll make you justify every position you take. It really forces people to become more passionate and factual as they begin to speak.

It becomes clear from the start that no statement will go unchallenged.

Being contrary is its own reward. So, this is totally fun for me.

When I was first approached to do today’s panel, I was skittish because it looked like the panel members might be all of one mind. A lovefest with no critical thinking would be worthless. I was assured there would be diversity of opinion and I was not disappointed.

Sometimes, I think I’d like to try my hand at doing this at some tech or broadcasting convention, but I have no idea where to go or who to contact to get the ball rolling.

&#185 – I am reminded by Dr. Frank Tavares at Southern Connecticut State University, that it was he who got me to moderate my first roundtable. It had to do with the future of communications. My boss (who I never really got along with) was a participant, as was the GM of the local cable company and a few others. We pulled no punches.

It was Brody who got me to do these in quantity, with world renowned experts, on the road at scholarly meetings, with an audience of opinionated and well informed experts. And, of course, doing the “Star Councils” on-camera made them even more fun.

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