Monday, June 10, 2013

N.Y. Times Article re California Beach Fire Rings

Recently the New York Times, echoing some earlier local media coverage, ran an article about an ongoing regulatory initiative from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to close open fire pits on public beaches in Southern California because of air pollutant emissions.  The article begins with descriptions and testimonials to the Southern Californian “dream of the beach as a realm of endless, carefree fun,” which despite its rather overwrought tone resonated with me, as I grew up in Southern California going to many of the beaches mentioned in the article.  I was less moved by the article’s intermingled references to “a blizzard of restrictions,” which seemed like a typical overwrought knee-jerk reaction to regulation.

And indeed, toward the end of the article, when it begins to discuss in earnest some of the beach regulations, they turn out to seem quite wise.  Alcohol was banned, for example, after a drunken brawl on a beach.  The proposed removal of the fire rings also seems well justified.  A recent study prepared for the SCAQMD found that one fire pit in one evening may emit as much particulate matter as a heavy-duty diesel truck driving 564 miles—an astonishing statistic.  In an area struggling to address its persistent and severe air pollution problems, leaving fire pit emissions unregulated would seem foolish.  There are very localized effects as well.  A woman who lives two blocks from the beach says that she has to shut her windows in the evenings to avoid asthma attacks.  These are real and serious impacts, and they make the beginning of the article’s references to the loss of ‘fun’ seem comparatively silly—in addition to playing on its beaches, I also grew up choking on Southern California’s smog.  I wonder whether the advocates for ‘fun’ quoted earlier in the article were aware of these facts when they made their statements.  In the end, the article left me more annoyed than anything—not so much at the advocates for ‘fun,’ but at the New York Times for front-loading its article with overwrought elegies to a lost ideal—environmentalists as killjoys—and burying the serious discussion at the end of the article.

--Todd Aagaard

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