The first year my grandparents moved to Chino, CA, I was about 9 years old. It was the early seventies. We drove there, my parents in the front seats and my little brother and I squabbling and snarling for mile after mile at each other in the back seat like a couple of irritating Chihuahuas. Fortunately for my parents, I have an amazing ability to fall asleep while travelling, especially in a car (even if I’m driving, which is not awesome). So as we came over the hill into the city of Los Angeles, proper, I was just waking up. It was about 10 a.m. and I thought I must still be dreaming, because what I saw was like something from the cover of one of my Dad’s sci-fi paperbacks. The city with its spires and vertical lines was foggy and faded, a-swirl in a beige soup of smog. Above the misty city was a sickly yellowish-brown sky, and hanging there, like a giant big bloated peach, was a deeply orange ball so large that I just stared at it, agape. It did not occur to me that this could be the sun. That is not what the sun looks like. You can’t stare at the sun. I finally collected myself enough to ask my parents what it was. “That can’t be the sun,” I thought, when my dad said it was. “You can’t stare at the sun!”
“Don’t stare at the sun,” my Dad told me. “I don’t think it’s safe.” He seemed almost as confused as I was, but it was probably just him quietly freaking out because he knew this was an alarmingly unhealthy thing.
The following couple of summers I saw that sight many times, although never again did I get that same weird, dissociated feeling like I was on another planet. That was just what the sun looked like in Los Angeles. My grandmother did her best to keep us busy so we would cease our squabbling, and in the middle of summer in Chino, CA, that mostly meant going to the public pool. But there were several weeks during those summers where we just sat, lethargically, at the edge of the pool, rather than swimming. This was because the air quality was so bad that we COULDN’T HOLD OUR BREATH UNDERWATER.
When I turned 20, I went to visit my aunt and cousin in Malibu, and took my portfolio, and got a job in an engineering firm in Los Angeles. The big orange ball in the sky, the bizarre sun of my youth, was gone. There were bad smog days, but they were nothing like the days when I could not hold my breath long enough to dive into a swimming pool. The Clean Air Act had started to take effect, and while there were still days in Los Angeles with smog warnings, those days were fewer and less dramatic.
I was thinking of this today when I heard the news that the Republicans had again blocked confirmation of a head of the EPA. This is not because they object to Gina McCarthy’s credentials. They don’t even pretend to object to her qualifications. It is because they do not want there to BE AN EPA. It is because they want corporations to have no regulation AT ALL. It is because some people refuse to believe that science really exists and that the sun and the earth and the universe are all part of a delicate balance of science and beauty in a very complex system. It is because these people are either willfully ignorant of how dangerous it is to breathe that crap or they can afford to go elsewhere, taking their bribe money from the corporate lobbyists and using a little of it to fly somewhere cleaner. Until there isn’t anywhere else to go.