Spare me (and yourself): How to reduce Bay Area “Spare the Air” days

If you’ve watched local news or seen a newspaper this week, you may know today’s a Spare the Air day.  Today’s forecast shows where air quality is the worst in the Bay Area.

On summer days when smog makes air unhealthy to breathe, the agency charged with reducing local air pollution issues “Spare the Air Smog Alerts.”  We’re asked to do what we can to cut back on activities that create smog, like unnecessary driving. 

As someone who welcomes gorgeous, hot weather in San Francisco and Oakland, I’ve learned it has an invisible cost.

On Spare the Air days, many local residents are actually advised to limit time and activities outdoors, particularly in the afternoon.  Today, most of the East Bay and South Bay have air that’s “unhealthy for sensitive groups” including active children and adults and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma.    

The American Lung Association has a great chart that grades air quality throughout California. It shows that more than 91 percent of Californians live in counties that were assigned failing grades for air quality. San Bernadino County is one that has, on average, 227 days a year of unhealthy air. 

The Bay Areas has a handful of these days every year.  And we’re actually the lucky ones, thanks to our coastal location and cool temperatures.

While Bay Area air is cleaner than other parts of the state, it’s changing.  As temperatures rise in the presence of climate change, the number of pollution alerts is expected to spike as our air quality worsens and threatens one of the things Californians love most—time outside.

This scenario is not inevitable though.  California has some of the strongest air quality laws in the country, including its climate bill, AB 32.  That landmark law—passed in ’06— holds polluters accountable and requires them to reduce air pollution that threatens human health and contributes to climate change.  That bill also launched California to the forefront of the clean technology industry and has brought new jobs and businesses to the State.

But, to no one’s surprise, two of the state’s biggest polluters–Texas-based oil companies Valero and Tesoro–are spending millions of dollars to kill AB 32 by bankrolling a November ballot initiative, Proposition 23.  Of the more than $6 million that’s been spent, 96 percent has come from oil companies, 85 percent of which is from out-of-state.  Their agenda is clear: roll-back California’s progress transitioning to cleaner, renewable forms of energy that will result in cleaner air.

While there are lots of small things we can do to Spare the Air today, one big action is marking the calendar to vote against Prop 23 on November 2.  Casting a ‘no’ vote on Prop 23 is casting a ‘yes’ vote for cleaner air in the Bay Area.

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