words by ethel and paul

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Harvard Magazine for May-June 2005, features an article on fine particles in human lungs (“Clearing The Air”, by Jonathan Shaw). From that primary subject, the author goes on a tour worldwide, describing human activities that damage human lungs.

One comment deserving attention declares, “The majority of the world’s population is still heating and cooking with bio-mass fuels: wood, crop residues, animal dung, and charcoal”. (We would add that electricity, deemed to be clean, often simply pollutes the air of someone else.)

Concern about global warming naturally emerges from study of air pollution, thence to note waste of solar energy, windpower, and geo-thermal resources--such as the hot water at the north border of Salt Lake City, that once comforted arthritis sufferers in the Warm Springs Municipal Swimming Pool.


Many years ago, there was a flare of interest in, and study of, solar energy. We tried to spark interest in legislation protecting and promoting solar energy use. Legislators were so utterly cold to our approach we had to seek the sun to warm up. Some did not know what we were talking about; those who did knew well, we later suspected, that the power- and heat-providing corporations would not like legislators who tried to promote use of the sun’s warmth and light.

We had in mind only a couple of rather simple measures: First, in municipal governance, to protect by building codes, the access to sunlight for existing and future structures, and, second, to require some use of solar energy in all future construction. Utah sun is abundant in all seasons; mostly it is wasted.

While our attempted amateur lobbying failed, the Neighborhood Housing Services in Salt Lake City, had notable success in retrofitting residential solar energy use in a limited area. (We were not in that area.)

When we decided to retrofit passive solar at the south end of our house, we had experience worth noting: Someone had managed to establish a State “promotional aid” program to encourage solar energy use. We obtained the papers for applying. We were dismayed and displeased, to say the least: Only a fully qualified solar architect could wade through the arcane language and concepts. Books available on solar energy used clear, non-vernacular language. Still, it finally happened, even if by happenstance.

We still try to promote, in our barely noticeable efforts, knowledge of the correct choice of trees (evergreens on the north of buildings, deciduous on the south) and protecting sunspace for warmth and for food gardening. We have devoted ourselves to saving trees, primarily the urban forest, and have participated, in our small way, in advocating planting (carefully chosen) trees to sustain life on Earth and to combat global warming.


But we move on, though this is actually a retracing of old footprints: the astounding benefits available from the sun, being ignored all over the world, as the Planet cringes, thinking about the future. We note that even planners and architects ignore practices once common in this country, among Native Americans and, later, Europeans: positioning structures to take advantage of sun, and designing to protect against, or make use of, prevailing winds. (Of course, City codes prevent non-uniform building.) An easy improvement would be additional glass to admit sun, some mass--even if limited--to store heat, and appropriate trees to shade the glass in summer.

An easier program along this line to reduce global warming would be to replace use of bio-mass energy use all over the world, including in the United States of America. With the amazing building materials now available, solar ovens for cooking (once being promoted) could be made available at very small cost (especially compared to the cost of mass killing).

While the use of vegetation, and even earth, for insulation has possibilities that are ignored, there is a recollection of a news item about an insulating material used in the space program that is so effective that a candle could heat a house. (Not the best idea!) (Reported July 8, 1997, p. 8A USA Today and/or Salt Lake Tribune.) Intentions to learn about that product/substance remained intentions, and though it is limitedly “on the market” the failure to promote it, after its appearance in The Thirties, is a crime against Planet Earth.

Some measures that would slow down global warming are a direct threat to corporations that today control our lives. But even recognizing the danger to life on Planet Earth, most humans will not move from the channels in which they live their lives, and some consensus is essential to make the necessary drastic changes.

It may be necessary to confront, and try to limit or even eliminate, the profit practices themselves. The energy corporations have long-term contracts (binding to unborn generations) and guaranteed profit, with government protection. A change in who possesses political power probably would/will be necessary.


The sad fact that we observe, is that most persons, including the supposedly “qualified” occupants of seats of government, would rather snatch what is popular and spoon-fed, promoted by unidentified powers, such as the alleged threats of tobacco use and the readily-witnessed danger of driving with alcohol. (Though there is rarely mention of the pervasive consumption of prescription dopes.)

The astounding attack on pollution in Salt Lake City is to ban tobacco smoke in outdoor places--but nary a word to condemn excessive vehicular emissions--obviously not restricted enough by current measures.

On a windless day, pollution in this valley is so thick the mountains can barely be seen--some days they disappear. There is something pathetic about fearing tobacco smoke in the midst of that stinking murk--a foul pudding of invisible monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitro-oxides, and sulphur di-oxide, in a matrix of visible particulates, and a dash of other flavors.

Most of the administrators of Salt Lake City show no concern about general pollution and global warming, with a dashing Mayor providing a bright exception. But all of the administration of Salt Lake City joined to ban the barely discernible wisps of tobacco smoke in the outdoors, a shameful action.

Clearly, they are forcing us to live the local religion, and not clearing the air.

Ethel C. Hale and W. Paul Wharton