Smog In Our National Parks?

BY ON August 4, 2015

Two girls overlooking scenic park

School’s out, summer’s hot, and many families are visiting one of our nation’s 59 National Parks, areas set aside for their aesthetic and ecologic significance, for the enjoyment of the general public. National Parks are places of iconic beauty, where we can encounter Nature with a capital N, and hundreds of millions of Americans flock there each there.

But despite our wishes to the contrary, our National Parks don’t exist in some separate universe. They are part of the world we inhabit, and they interact with it, and with us.

This basic fact bears repeating, because it’s gotten thrown in the blender in the latest chapter of the scuffle over setting a new national smog standard.

Last week, the National Association of Manufacturers claimed that our National Parks were, by definition, too pristine to exceed smog standards. It’s actually quite a good lesson in false reasoning. It goes something like this:

  1. National Parks have clean air.
  2. An updated smog standard could cause these icons of fresh air to be out of attainment with the national smog standard.
  3. Therefore, the updated standard must be wrong.
  4. Guess we should just stick with the outdated standard we already have.

I can almost hear my fifth grade teacher asking for someone to point out the fatal flaw in this argument.

Thankfully, we have the National Parks Conservation Association, which this week issued a report on air quality in our beloved National Parks showing that our most iconic parks routinely struggle with unhealthy smog levels. Four parks – Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Yosemite, all in California – regularly experience unhealthy smog levels.

Note to fifth graders, I mean, to the National Association of Manufacturers: Please review assumption A.

Guess what? Air pollution actually moves!

Oh, and another thing. Your screen saver photos of national park vistas do not count as official air pollution monitors.

Sorry, but one more thing. That pesky stuff, that scientific research? All that bothersome, painstaking health data that underlies our national clean air standards? That stuff is not incidental. It’s not elective. Or an afterthought. It’s about our families and their health. (And if you think we can’t connect the dots between these smog antics on science and the willful ignorance of the scientific basis of climate change, think again.)

Moms care about smog because smog is dangerous. It is a powerful lung irritant that triggers asthma attacks and interferes with lung development. Smog forms in the atmosphere when industrial pollution from power plants, cars, and other sources combines with heat and light. It generally gets worse in summer, and is predicted to get worse as our climate warms. It harms crops, is bad for trees, and is dangerous for elders as well as children to breathe.

If smog levels are high in our National Parks, the solution is not to claim it isn’t. The solution is to reduce the sources of air pollution that lead to smog.

If the folks over at the National Manufacturing Association and the US Chamber of Commerce find this kind of thinking confusing, do please let me know. I would be happy to suggest a local elementary school where they might greatly enjoy a mid-career break.




TOPICS: Environment, Ozone, Science