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Environment

The Women Behind California’s Landmark Vehicle Emissions Law

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The women behind California’s landmark vehicle emissions law

by Steve Swatt and Susie Swatt for CalMatters

LOS ANGELES — President Trump’s blood feud with California over its authority to set its own clean air standards brings to mind the state’s embryonic fight against noxious smog in the 1960s, when the Golden State first imposed anti-pollution requirements on automakers.

And we can thank a handful of women–worried about their children’s health–for accelerating public awareness and government action. Los Angeles had experienced its first official smog attack on July 26, 1943. A thick, brown, acrid cloud hung low over the city for several hours. Visibility was near zero.

The Los Angeles Times called it a “gas attack” and reported that thousands of people had irritated eyes, noses and throats. City workers found the fumes almost unbearable.

In the ensuing years, the smog alerts became more frequent and severe, not surprising given the city’s rapid growth, automobile culture and its infamous inversion layer that trapped the smog close to the ground.

In 1952, Caltech scientist Dr. Arie Haagen-Smit discovered that smog was produced, in large part, when tailpipe emissions mixed with sunlight. But government’s initial anti-pollution efforts didn’t target auto exhaust, and a restless citizenry looked for quixotic gimmicks to help, from using cannons to tear a hole in the inversion layer to building giant fans to blow the smog away.

The idea of using fans was easily dismissed after Dr. Haagen-Smit determined that the electricity needed to run the fans for just one day would require the output from Hoover Dam for eight years.

By late 1958, a handful of fed-up Beverly Hills moms–many with husbands in the entertainment industry–had had enough.

When Marge Levee’s 2-year-old daughter was rushed to the hospital after a severe asthma attack, doctors told her to move out of the Los Angeles area. 

“I decided instead to stay and do something about air pollution,” she told Family Circle magazine in a 1968 interview. She and a handful of her friends formed Stamp Out Smog, or SOS, and held meetings in Levee’s living room.

The group’s ties to Hollywood gave it an entrée to the news media and prominent coverage. Levee was married to a talent agent and film producer. 

Other members included the spouses of TV personality Art Linkletter, actor Robert Cummings, a Warner Brothers producer and an executive at Music Corp. of America.

Interestingly, newspaper style back then was to tie a married woman’s identity to her husband. Early stories about “Stamp Out Smog” referred to Mrs. Michael C. Levee, Jr., Mrs. Art Linkletter, etc.

Early in the organization’s existence, Afton Slade gave a pitch at a PTA meeting. One woman rose and asked, “Sure, air pollution is bad, but what can a bunch of women do about it?” 

The answer came quickly.

Savvy in the ways of publicity, the women of SOS held colorful marches and publicity stunts to garner public attention and support. Often, they brought their children to events wearing gas masks. They learned about catalytic converters and other smog-abatement technologies, consulted with experts, met with mayors and testified at state and local government hearings. The group earned a reputation as a tenacious fighter for families fearful of dirty, unhealthful air.

To increase its political clout, SOS quickly built a huge coalition of more than 400 disparate groups, from chambers of commerce and garden clubs to unions and health organizations. Members were activated before critical government hearings with phone trees and chain letters—the social media of the day. 

The Palm Springs Desert Sun gushed that “SOS probably packs the most concentrated and potent feminine determination ever directed towards achievement of a common goal in the history of our Golden State. Woe betide the hapless politician or industrialist who fails to show complete cooperation.”

SOS pushed for a coordinated state response to the smog scourge and a mandate that vehicles in California be equipped with exhaust-reduction devices. It packed Capitol committee hearings with advocates and played a major role in securing passage of the California Motor Vehicle Control Act in 1960, the nation’s first statewide air pollution control act. 

The law created a board to regulate tailpipe emissions and included scientists, academics, auto experts, public health officers—and Margaret Levee. The board developed the nation’s first vehicle emissions standards.

Once, when the panel met with the heads of the nation’s largest car companies, Levee was the only woman in attendance. 

A man leaned over to her and whispered, “Tell me, how are you going to scare them?” Levee whispered back, “Perhaps I’ll tell them that SOS will get the public to decide not to buy a new car every year or so.” 

Warren Dorn, who served on the LA Board of Supervisors between 1956 and 1972, once credited SOS with having a hand in 150 pieces of state and local anti-pollution legislation. The county’s air pollution chief, Louis Fuller, put it this way: “These SOS women are afraid of no one.”

Backed by science and legions of anxious citizens, the women of Stamp Out Smog galvanized public opinion and pressured government action because they—more vividly than politicians and scientist—were able to create a sense that public health was at risk. 

Sixty years later, the Trump Administration is threatening to reverse many of the anti-pollution gains that these women fought so hard to enact.

———

Steve Swatt and Susie Swatt are co-authors of “Paving the Way: Women’s Struggle for Political Equality in California.” 

Photo: Downtown Los Angeles in a layer of smog by MattGush/Getty Images

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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Environment

Changes Brought On by Coronavirus May Help Tackle Climate Change

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Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST

by Glen Peters for The Conversation

Stock markets around the world had some of their worst performance in decades this past week, well surpassing that of the global financial crisis in 2008. Restrictions in the free movement of people is disrupting economic activity across the world as measures to control the coronavirus roll out.

There is a strong link between economic activity and global carbon dioxide emissions, due to the dominance of fossil fuel sources of energy. This coupling suggests we might be in for an unexpected surprise due to the coronavirus pandemic: a slowdown of carbon dioxide emissions due to reduced energy consumption.

Based on new projections for economic growth in 2020, we suggest the impact of the coronavirus might significantly curb global emissions.

The effect is likely to be less pronounced than during the global financial crisis (GFC). And emissions declines in response to past economic crises suggest a rapid recovery of emissions when the pandemic is over.

But prudent spending of economic stimulus measures, and a permanent adoption of new work behaviours, could influence how emissions evolve in future.

Global fossil CO2 emissions (vertical axis) have grown together with economic activity (horizontal axis) over extended periods of time. Glen Peters/CICERO

The world in crisis

In just a few short months, millions of people have been put into quarantine and regions locked down to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Around the world events are being cancelled and travel plans dropped. A growing number of universities, schools and workplaces have closed and some workers are choosing to work from home if they can.

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cancelled a critically important meeting and will instead hold it virtually.

The International Energy Agency had already predicted oil use would drop in 2020, and this was before an oil price war emerged between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The unprecedented coronavirus lockdown in China led to an estimated 25% reduction in energy use and emissions over a two-week period compared to previous years (mostly due to a drop in electricity use, industrial production and transport). This is enough to shave one percentage point growth off China’s emissions in 2020. Reductions are also being observed in Italy, and are likely to spread across Europe as lockdowns become more widespread.

The emission-intensive airline industry, covering 2.6% of global carbon dioxide emissions (both national and international), is in freefall. It may take months, if not years, for people to return to air travel given that coronavirus may linger for several seasons.

Given these economic upheavals, it is becoming increasingly likely that global carbon dioxide emissions will drop in 2020.

Global air travel is down significantly as a result of the pandemic. Andy Rain/EPA

Coronavirus is not the GFC

Leading authorities have revised down economic forecasts as a result of the pandemic, but so far forecasts still indicate the global economy will grow in 2020. For example, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) downgraded estimates of global growth in 2020 from 3% (made in November 2019) to 2.4% (made in March 2020). The International Monetary Fund has indicated similar declines, with an update due next month.

Assuming the carbon efficiency of the global economy improves in line with the 10-year average of 2.5% per year, the OECD’s post-coronavirus growth projection implies carbon dioxide emissions may decline 0.3% in 2020 (including a leap year adjustment).

But the GFC experience indicates that the carbon efficiency of the global economy may improve much more slowly during a crisis. If this happens in 2020 because of the coronavirus, carbon dioxide emissions still could grow.

A decomposition of CO2 emissions growth into economic growth (orange) and carbon efficiency improvements (green) to estimate future emissions based on OECD economic growth projections. Glen Peters/CICERO

Under the worst-case OECD forecast the global economy in 2020 could grow as little as 1.5%. All else equal, we calculate this would lead to a 1.2% decline in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020.

This drop is comparable to the GFC, which in 2009 led to a 0.1% drop in global GDP and a 1.2% drop in emissions. So far, neither the OECD or International Monetary Fund have suggested coronavirus will take global GDP into the red.

The emissions rebound

The GFC prompted big, swift stimulus packages from governments around the world, leading to a 5.1% rebound in global emissions in 2010, well above the long-term average.

Previous financial shocks, such as the collapse of the former Soviet Union or the 1970s and 1980s oil crises, also had periods with lower or negative growth, but growth soon returned. At best, a financial crisis delays emissions growth a few years. Structural changes may happen, such as the shift to nuclear energy after the oil crises, but evidence suggests emissions continue to grow.

Global fossil CO2 emissions (in Gigatons or billions of tonnes of CO2) and carbon intensity of world Gross Domestic Product (grams of CO2 per $US, 2000), with the most important financial crises. Global Carbon Project

The economic legacy of the coronavirus might also be very different to the GFC. It looks more like a slow burner, with a drop in productivity over an extended period rather than widespread job losses in the short term.

Looking to the future

The coronavirus pandemic will not turn around the long-term upward trend in global emissions. But governments around the world are announcing economic stimulus measures, and they way they’re spent may affect how emissions evolve in future.

There is an opportunity to invest the stimulus money in structural changes leading to reduced emissions after economic growth returns, such as further development of clean technologies.

Fewer people are expected to use public transport during the coronavirus outbreak. Steven Saphore/AAP

Also, the coronavirus has forced new working-from-home habits that limit commuting, and a broader adoption of online meetings to reduce the need for long-haul business flights. This raises the prospect of long-term emissions reductions should these new work behaviours persist beyond the current global emergency.

The coronavirus is, of course, an international crisis, and a personal tragedy for those who have lost, and will lose, loved ones. But with good planning, 2020 could be the year that global emissions peak (though the same was said after the GFC).

That said, past economic shocks might not be a great analogue for the coronavirus pandemic, which is unprecedented in modern human history and has a long way to go.


Glen Peters is Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Community

WeHo Annual Arbor Day Celebration Plummer Park – Mar 21

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WEST HOLLYWOOD — The City of West Hollywood invites community members to join staff and City Councilmembers for a tree planting ceremony in Plummer Park as part of the annual Arbor Day celebration.

Arbor Day is a special day that is set aside throughout the world to raise awareness of trees and the important role that they play in our environment.

People throughout the world take part in tree planting events and other celebrations of trees and the role that they play in our environment.

The first American Arbor Day was originated in Nebraska City, Nebraska by J. Sterling Morton. On April 10, 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska.

Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 9 a.m. at the Parkway on N. Vista Street on the West Side of Plummer Park, located at 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard.

For more information, please contact Debbie Gonzalez at (323) 848-3116 or dgonzalez@weho.org.

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Environment

House Passes Schiff’s Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act

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WASHINGTON D.C. – Rep. Adam Schiff has applauded the bipartisan passage of The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, which would add more than 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). The bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis with 231 Yeas and 183 Nays

Schiff first introduced this legislation in 2017, and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris introduced companion legislation in the Senate. It recently passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan basis.

To view a map of the proposed expansion under the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, click here

“I am thrilled that the House of Representatives has passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, legislation I have championed for nearly 20 years,” Congressman Schiff said. “Preservation of the open space in our communities is not only good for our environment, wildlife, and ecosystems, but it is beneficial for the health and well-being of residents of all ages. The Rim of the Valley corridor is an area of striking and breathtaking natural beauty, and we must do whatever we can to preserve that beauty for the benefit of LA residents, the millions each year who visit, and for generations to come.”

“Today’s vote in the House is a win for the Rim of the Valley Corridor and the millions of Los Angeles County residents living in the surrounding communities,” said Senator Feinstein. “Preserving this unspoiled terrain will protect sensitive habitat for California wildlife and open space to benefit local economies. I am glad that Congressman Schiff was able to pass it in the House and look forward to doing the same here in the Senate, where it has already advanced out of committee.”

“The Rim of the Valley corridor is home to some of Southern California’s most beautiful wildlife and landscapes,” said Senator Harris. “That is why we must take immediate steps to protect this area’s habitats and natural resources. I am grateful to Congressman Schiff for his leadership on this issue and I applaud the House of Representatives for prioritizing the preservation of this area so it can be enjoyed by future generations. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line.”

The proposed expansion is based on a six-year study of the region completed by the National Park Service in 2015. This legislation would expand the SMMNRA to include many, but not all, of the land included in the study. The lands included within the expansion will be known as the Rim of the Valley Unit and stretches from the Simi Hills and Santa Susanas to the Verdugos and on to the San Gabriel Mountains. The bill will enable NPS and the local community to better protect natural resources and habitats, and provide members of the community with improved access to nature for recreational and educational purposes.

To view the fact sheet about the legislation, click here.

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