Inside the global climate change champion of California, is the San Francisco Bay Area, the world’s “Green Capital.” It is also the largest contributor to some of the worst air quality in the nation. For a third of California located downwind and across the coastal hills, the Bay Area is literally making it hard to breathe.
It’s the place where the Whole Earth Catalog and 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Planet were first published, where curbside recycling was born. The Bay Area donates more funds to environmental and ecological causes than any other area of the planet. It’s home base to the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Save the Redwoods League with memberships in the millions, along with hundreds of other green, nonprofit groups.
The northwesterly breezes that make the Bay Area sparkle, do so by carrying the pollution of its 7 million residents – the emissions from their cars, the fumes from their fireplaces, the byproduct of their power plants and waste treatment facilities, the exhaust from continuous construction – through the Altamont Pass blanketing the Central Valley in filth.
According to the American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report, of California’s 39 million residents, 35 million (91%) live in failed air quality, all or part of the year. The Bay Area exhales eye-burning ozone, greenhouse gases like CO2 and carbon monoxide, diesel and gasoline particulates, grit, burnt oil, and scores of toxic substances making the Bay Area the fourth largest particulate polluter in the United States.
The southern Central Valley — a bucolic, rural farm-to-fork region filled with orchards and fields as well as a population of hard-working people — has bore the blame and brunt of the Bay Area’s merciless assault for decades.The Central Valley’s southernmost counties have struggled to comply with the strictest air pollution requirements in the state, striving to clean up the mess sent to them by their northern neighbors by reducing air contamination that they hardly even produce.
“You have no time to sit on your petard pontificating…We’re on the field of battle here. Climate is changing,” Governor Jerry Brown stated clearly in Vanity Fair that it is California’s responsibility to lead the charge against global climate change. But high-minded goals should be applied to our state offenders first.
Gov. Brown’s fellow residents in San Francisco should not get a pass. Not at the cost of 90% of Californians living in failed air quality from the pollution sent from 10% of Californians that live in the Bay Area.
The reason the Bay Area meets air quality standards isn’t that they comply with new regulations like the rest of the state, but because bay winds export their waste without any consideration for the consequences. So while the Central Valley continues to invest billions to comply with increasing air quality regulations to clean up the Bay Area’s toxic emissions, the Bay Area needs to be an environmental leader and recognize the role they play in creating this environmental disaster, take responsibility for their actions, and do more to curb the onslaught they inflict on those unfortunate enough to live downwind.
A native of the Central Valley, Aubrey Bettencourt is a national water, natural resources, and food security expert. Follow her on Twitter at @AubBettencourt.