Tag Archives: Air pollution

“There’s No Honor In Waste” -Samara Swanston

Last Wednesday, October 12th, I was invited to join Peter and the core engine exhaust group for lunch. The group included George Pakenham, Isabella B. Silverman, Samara Swanston, Karl Storchmann, Peter, and myself. The afternoon comprised of an extremely productive and informative anti-idling campaign meeting, vigorous note taking on my end for my midterm and final project, and the icing on the cake was Peter covering my meal. Thank you again Peter!

In order to get a clearer idea of who all these people are that Peter and I met with, here is what they all do. George  is the notorious man-on-emissions; an environmental activist who focuses on idling and who made the film, Idle Threat (website: http://www.verdantvigilante.com/about/george.html). Isabella B. Silverman is also an environmental activist who starred in George’s film Idle Threat. Samara Swanston “is currently the legislative counsel to the Environmental Protection Committee of the New York City Council and an Adjunct Professor at the Pratt Institute Graduate School for Urban Planning and the Environment” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/swanston-samara-80923356). Lastly, Karl Storchmann is an NYU professor of Urban Economics who’s found a great response rate from his students when offering extra credit to report idling in NYC.

Samara Swanston built off this idea to give extra credit to students but in greater detail. She said it is imperative to write an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to a government agency with the focus being on an environmental and public issue, as these issues impact everyone breathing the air in New York City. Samara ended her input with a new quote; “There is no honor in waste.”

Additional information I was given during lunch was that Karl has a youtube channel called “Idle NYC,” which closely resembles our first blog post assignment when Peter asked us to go notice idling and post some pictures or videos. Also, summer months such as June and July appear to be the peak times of year for idling due to higher demand for comfort and stronger air conditioning. What is more interesting is that idling in the summer heat and keeping the air conditioning on actually puts out even more heat into the atmosphere than the colder months of the year because the tailpipes get much hotter in the summer sun.

To wrap up our meeting, Samara and Isabella gave me two very important names to keep in mind and to share with friends, colleagues, and environmental activists. Thomas M Chan is the Chief of Transportation for the NYPD and Inspector Michael Pilecki, a commanding officer of traffic enforcement for the NYPD. Samara and Isabella told me to pass on these names to my peers and cohorts because these are the guys to write complaints to in order for something to be done in terms of law enforcement for idling in NYC. I imagine it is more productive to approach this from the top down than the other way around so that our voices have a greater chance of being noticed and heard. The most important factor in all of this is to vigorously stay on these guys and overwhelm them with complaints until something is done. Otherwise, they’re more likely to not take notice that people actually care about this crucial law and the detrimental impact it has on our environment.

Photo credit goes to our awesome waiter who’s name I did not get but I wish I had!

Me and Isabella B. Silverman, environmental activist and star of Idle Threat.
Me and the man-on-emission himself, George Pakenham.
Me and the man-on-emission himself, George (of the *concrete* jungle) Pakenham. 

Love me some black Mercedes lung (just kidding…)

On my walk to class this morning, I made a quick stop at Liquiteria for my favorite smoothie, Bulldozer with added strawberries and blueberries.  While waiting for my order, I looked out the window and instead of the usual dog walkers and cabs flying down 6th Ave, I saw a beautiful black C 700 Mercedes Benz waiting out front. I remembered this assignment and decided to go outside to get a closer look to see whether or not the driver was idling. Sure enough, she was texting on her phone with the AC on.  I snapped the photo above and got her license plate number and she was sitting on the corner of W 8th and 6th Ave.  It made me feel like a detective (a secret dream of mine since I was a kid) so I think I’m gonna keep this up.  Unfortunately, idling is destructive and in no way do I hope to see more of it occur. However if it does, I plan on staying aware and taking action.


Stephen Colbert, Chinese Air Pollution Control, and the Clean Air Act

Having moved on from his show The Colbert Report, part time satirical comedian part time late night talk show host Stephen Colbert now presides over the Late Show.  Last year Colbert he did a segment covering Chinese President Hu Jintao’s trip to America. During his visit Jintao announced that China would be taking steps towards cleaner atmospheric conditions and significantly decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.  The segment, though a bit dated, references several still relevant issues.  Colbert jokes about sea levels rising and the connection to global atmospheric conditions.  He also mentions the Volkswagen controversy which indicates further cause for concern and demonstrates a company being environmentally deceitful in order to gain an economic benefit.  Colbert’s piece also addresses the fact that while many presidents have vocalized climate change concerns very few have acted upon them.  It seems that with the upcoming presidential race that Colbert’s segment should be taken into account when looking at various candidates stances on climate change both at home and abroad.

While the revision made to the existing Air Pollution Control Act is a step in the right direction for the Chinese, it is lacking in some areas. While their was a proposal on the table to limit the use of automobile use in order to cut down on China’s infamous smog problem, the proposal was ultimately deleted from the final draft. (The Act Revision’s full text document can be found on the Chinese Government’s official law website. ) This conclusion to remove the part of the revision limiting automobile usage was reached because Chinese policy makers were worried that it would encroach on the right’s of Chinese citizens. This negotiation demonstrates the need to strike a balance between conservation laws and individuals rights.


This issue of balancing rights and conservation is not only an issue in China. In fact the Chinese document is very interesting to compare to the United State’s own Clean Air Act which is more stringent than China’s Pollution Control Act.  Despite the comparatively greater regulations mandated by the Clean Air Act and the positive effects these  regulations have had on our environment, Congress continually seeks out to weaken the regulations of the Clean Air Act for similar reasons. On the other hand many individuals and organizations believe that we should further regulate air pollution in order to improve public health and slow climate change.




Haifa is  the main port city in the north of Israel. The Haifa port is the gate for imports from all over the world, but it is also the home to some of the biggest chemical factories in Israel, which results in the highest air pollution hub in the country.
It has been known for years that Haifa and its surrounding towns are victims of higher polluted air than anywhere else in the country, due to these factories and vehicle pollution. Though a recent research has revealed that the situation is much worse than what was assumed until now.

Haifa air pollution
Air pollution in Haifa (image from http://www.phc.org.il)

This recent study discovered that in the areas that are directly down wind and facing the polluting factories, babies are born at a lighter weight and with heads 20-30% smaller than in other areas of the city. More so, it was found that lung and lymphoma cancer were diagnosed in adults 5 times more than the average in the rest of the country. Dr. Hagai Levin, from the Hebrew University, explains that the birth defects can increase the risk for death after birth, and in later ages can lead to diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and even cognitive problems such as low IQ.

This most recent discovery has really shaken the country, though the knowledge of the pollution is not new at all. The government and the city of Haifa are in constant battles with the factories to lower the release of dangerous and harmful gases and chemicals into the air. Every year they say the situation is “better”, although we see this isn’t true.
What I think is so sad is that the people working in these factories live in the effected neighborhoods, and their kids too are getting hurt by this pollution.

To rub salt into the wound, after this latest study was published, Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of the Hezbollah, came out with a statement saying that these factories, specifically the Ammonia tanks, are his “own nuclear bomb.” As if the pollution from these factories isn’t enough damage to the people of Haifa, they also need to be reminded that if the Hezbollah wanted to, with just a few rockets they can turn the factories causing cancer and birth defects into a nuclear bomb-like explosion.

An Undeniable Human Need

After reading “The Plain English Guide To The Clean Air Act” it came to my attention that all of these efforts in preserving clean air are extremely important. Out of all the current environmental issues, I find it most worrying that we are in a situation where we must protect and defend the right to the air we breathe. Air is an undeniable human need. If we do not have air for more than one minute, we can no longer live.

Image Source: http://acidrain11.blogspot.com/2013/03/acid-rain-negative-effects.html
Image Source: http://acidrain11.blogspot.com/2013/03/acid-rain-negative-effects.html

I found it very interesting to learn from the Clean Air Act that polluted air not only affects us as humans, but also alters our environment, maybe even faster than its negative consequences reach us. For instance, the act notes that polluted air is not only harmful to plants and crops, but also to buildings and statues, which are simply just objects. I think it is quite pertinent to look at air pollution in this way, when we come to see that it impacts inanimate things, and that even those somehow need air to survive through time. It is frightening to already see our surroundings deteriorating in front of us.

Image Source: http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2014/04/8544521/new-york-air-quality-better-still-uneven

Furthermore, I believe that the issue of air contamination should entice people to be more conscious just because it affects all of us on the earth, contrary to the food or water contaminations which some would argue are only specific to certain areas of the world, having not reached them yet. Polluted air is nearly everywhere and especially in the types of urban settings that we live in. More than any other, this should be a subject that we pay close attention to before it completely ruins the air of our cities.