“Post-Truth” Is the Word of the Year according to the Oxford English Dictionary, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion that appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It is easier to discard an objective fact if it is something one cannot see, touch or feel. Most people don’t notice that ocean levels have been increasing by three millimeters a year. Also, some can be convinced by other plausible causes for global warming, such as sunspots or non-man-made climate changes that occurred eons ago.
So what can be done about people who disagree with 97 percent of the world’s scientists who believe that global warming is secondary to human factors or who think that the last three years of record heat is merely an anomaly? One way is to sidestep the global warming issue and focus on something that can be seen and felt—air pollution. Most everyone will agree that air pollution is man-made. They also likely would agree that air pollution is detrimental to one’s health, particularly respiratory diseases. And if you can get people working to improve air pollution, they will also be improving a factor that contributes to global warming. Encouraging the use of electric cars, for example, decreases carbon dioxide emissions.
Another reason to focus on air pollution is we know something can be done about it to significantly remedy the problem in a relatively short period of time. Modified car engines and strict emission standards do make a difference. The first time I came to Los Angeles was in 1968 when the air quality was particularly bad. It was so bad that I seriously considered not taking a residency at UCLA in 1972. Before I accepted the position offered at UCLA, I called the Air Pollution Control Board and asked them about air pollution in Westwood where UCLA is located. They told me that of the permanent monitoring stations, the one in Westwood routinely measured the lowest levels of air pollution. I accepted the residency and have been happy living in Southern California ever since.
Even though there are so many more cars and people in LA now, and smog in the LA basin is inevitable, the air quality is actually much better than when I first moved here. In fact, it is 90 percent better than it was in 1960 and far better than in cities like Beijing that don’t have nearly as many cars as Los Angeles. In fact there are seventy-eight cities in China that have worse pollution than Los Angeles. It’s so bad in China that people actually buy cans of fresh mountain air just to get a few whiffs of non-polluted air. China is now actively interested in cleaning up their foul air, as evidenced by such things as their signing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Trump has threatened to undermine this international agreement that the US also signed. Let’s hope it is an idle threat.