Forbes put out its “America’s Dirtiest Cities” list this morning, giving Fresno its “booby prize” for being the dirtiest and, in the process, not really telling us anything about our city that we didn’t already know.
Yes, Fresno has poor air quality. Yes, the water here isn’t the greatest — though Forbes uses a 10-year-old example when plenty has been written about the subject since then. From Forbes’ explainer:
The environmental degradation of the Central Valley has many contributing factors. First of all, its geography doesn’t do it any favors. It’s a big, long bowl surrounded on three sides by mountains that trap pollutants from cars and factories and oil fields in an inversion layer. Second, it’s a victim of what brought people there in the first place — rich fertile soils from which grow much of America’s fruits and vegetables. For decades farmers would burn leftover cuttings from their fields after the harvest — dumping massive amounts of lung-choking particulate matter into the air. Burning has been banned since 2004, and the air has gotten cleaner since then, but there’s still a long way to go.
UPDATE 1/10: From today’s Bee: Stronger Valley air pollution alerts to be issued.
ORIGINAL ENTRY 1/9: I was walking along Huntington Boulevard at about 4:30 p.m. yesterday, enjoying a nice late-Sunday stroll on a lazy afternoon, when I noticed a house on the south side of the street — very cute, very rustic, with a charming depiction of an owl hanging from the roof — with smoke wafting out the chimney. A big pile of firewood was stacked on the front porch. It was nearly 60 degrees.
Really? On a no-burn day, in a week in which the stuff we breathe is choked with particulate matter? Are people really that clueless about how bad our air is this winter? On Dec. 29, Bee environment writer Mark Grossi wrote:
The Valley’s haze has become a nasty brew of soot and debris twice the federal health standard. And it’s getting worse. Nature and the economy have created a perfect storm of dirty air — the worst December bout for the Fresno-Clovis area in more than a decade.
Some people say they have to use their fireplaces for economic reasons. If they don’t burn, they can’t stay warm, and that’s a health issue, they say.
Not when it’s warm to walk down the street in your shirt sleeves.
As seems to be depressingly the case in our hyper-polarized society, wood burning becomes a political act as well. As one fresnobee.com commenter declared:
I believe I have a right to burn a fire in my fireplace without an unreasonable search of my chimney. Just seems like government has grown too big.
What I want to know is this: How bad does our air have to get for clueless people to stop the burning? Right now, the fine for lighting wood fires is $50, waived on the first offense. Maybe it should be $5,000.