In California’s Central Valley emissions from oil refineries and agriculture make Bakersfield America’s most air-polluted city. Activists fear the Trump administration could undo small but steady improvements.
The bluffs on Panorama Road offer a wide view of the northern half of Bakersfield, which is one of the few major population centres in California’s Central Valley – perhaps the US’ leading agricultural motherlode.
It’s a rare bird’s eye vantage point of this low-slung farm city of roughly 375,000 people, nestled in a bowl created by the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east and part of the California Coast Ranges to the west. On a clear day, the state’s dominant topographical features put the landscape, and one’s place in it, in sobering perspective.
The Salton Sea, Southern California’s accidental oasis-turned-environmental tragedy, is the kind of disaster for which 20th-century U.S. policymakers only have themselves to thank.
Sitting 150 miles east of Los Angeles in the dry and hot Sonoran Desert, the Salton Sea is a 375-square-mile accident of nature, industry and real estate. It’s the largest inland body of water in California, but it’s saltier than the ocean, and the diversity of fish and wildlife it can support is diminishing. And below the surface is a seabed of contaminated soil that, once dried, turns to a toxic dust that is already posing public health risks.
Oh, and the sea is evaporating rapidly, which means more toxic dust being released into the air.
Human behavior and land use affect air quality, and those effects are very distinct at the local level. A new environmental game fusing public participation, air quality sensors and web technology shows how.
Cities are polluted places, and everyone knows it. Beijing is just coming out of a month-long media barrage on the city's poor air quality. Los Angeles, the original City of Smog, has been hearing it for decades. And though the existence of pollution is well known, it's not so well understood.