A question for Paris talks: Is there coal in your stocking this Christmas?

Pasadena Star-News
By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune


None of you has been naughty this Christmas, so I can rest assured Santa won’t be leaving a lump of coal in your stocking.

Speaking of carbon-based materials, Christmas came early this year.

The Global Carbon Project announced last week that the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are down for the first time despite a growing global economy. Unlike in past years when emissions of the greenhouse gas increased 2-3 percent, researchers expect a drop of 1.6 percent by the end of 2015.

They attribute the drop to a slowing economy in China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. So, the good news might not stick around next year, as long as global economies rely on the burning of fossil fuels that produce this invisible menace, which has led to climate change.

This was a bit of good news for the nations gathering in Paris for talks on climate change. The goal is to keep the temperature rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But some island nations want a tougher limit, because resulting rising sea levels will put them underwater literally.

While the talk from Paris about global climate change’s relationship to the spread of terrorism and the flow of refugees fleeing humongous typhoons, hurricanes or droughts may be less than certain, there was no doubting what fossil fuels, especially coal, are doing to the air the Chinese breathe every day.

Even with a slower economy, Beijing experienced more than three straight days of dangerous smog this month. The authorities issued some of the highest warnings, closing schools in the capital and placing restrictions on nearby factories.

Here’s how bad their air got: The levels of PM2.5 particles (smaller than 2.5 microns) that slip past the human defenses and lodge in the lungs reached 300 micrograms. The safe level for PM2.5 is 25 micrograms.

Hence, China plans on cutting output of coal-burning plants. But the use of coal in other developing countries may not subside, experts say.

Here in Southern California, the air continues to violate the safe standard for PM2.5 during the winter, but not nearly at such severe levels. Still, this one is easier to fix. Simply stop burning logs in your fireplace. The use of fireplaces in Southern California is first of all, absurd and second of all, hurting our air. I have closed off the two fireplaces in our home. I suggest everyone else do the same. The South Coast Air Quality Management District already prohibits this on certain days. Did you know that?

The air district issued two no-burn alerts last week. Meaning those who burned wood or pressed wax logs in a fireplace, stove or outdoor fire ring last Tuesday and Wednesday were breaking the law. The district allows ceramic logs in fireplaces burning natural gas (but I still say we ought to get rid of them all).

Speaking of gas, it’s incredulous that Southern California Gas cannot stop a major gas leak in Porter Ranch, a community north of Los Angeles. It has been leaking for seven weeks!

According to residents there, the leak releases 50,000 kilograms of methane gas per hour. So far, about 700 people had to relocate, some to motels.

There should be a rule: Utility companies that install gas lines must only do so if they know where the off switch is.

The bigger picture is also troubling, since methane gas is a major contributor to global warming. In fact, it traps heat in the upper atmosphere at a rate that is 72 times greater than plain old CO2. The leak is reportedly contributing as much greenhouse gases as 160,000 cars driving in L.A. for a year.

Let’s remember when it comes to greenhouse gases or air pollution, to not just point to China. The finger also should be turned toward ourselves.