Monday, May 30, 2016
Publication Date: 05/1/2007
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Editor's Note: Pollution and Disappearing Dreams
Walter Salm, Editor
What is it about our atmosphere that makes everybody believe they can pollute it at will and get away with it? In some parts of the world, people are incredibly unconcerned about lung-choking pollution that is so thick it hides the sun most of the day. Countries as far apart as Rumania and China still spew tons of CO and CO2 into the air in support of industry. In many cases, marginal companies simply cannot afford to install the needed technology to reduce emissions, or they just don't care, and as long as they can get away with it, they will continue to poison the air for many miles around the facility. The resulting toll is a heavy one, on lungs, lifestyle and lifespan. In many cases, this type of pollution is illegal, but the government can't or won't enforce the regulations.

Even well enforced emission controls don't always work as effectively as they should. In a recent trip to Paris (I was there to visit the I&J Fisnar France facility — see page 16), I was astounded to see the city and its suburbs enveloped in an all-encompassing, all-day haze that simply didn't go away. It wasn't really smog. I know what real smog is; I've spent time in Los Angeles, the city that gave birth to the expression "I don't trust any air that I can't see." San Francisco, on the other hand, almost always has heavy fog in the morning, but this is just water vapor that usually burns off by noon. In Paris, it didn't burn off; and I watched the probable cause in amazement as streets and highways were fully as clogged with motor vehicles as in any American city — and with gas costing a whopping $8.50 a gallon. I was so relieved when I got back to Northern California to see that gas was still only $3.00 a gallon (it's up to $3.50 now, as I write this, and no end seems to be in sight).

But like Californians, the French pay their own outrageous price for petrol, and all those cars and all that traffic continue to be a dominating influence. What is going on this time around? Has the American public become so desensitized to high energy prices? No matter where the price goes, they just fill up their gas-guzzling SUVs and monster trucks and continue to crowd the highways. I wince every time I fill up my relatively economical car with a $40 tankful of gas that I need just to get around. The French, long accustomed to outrageously high-priced fuel, use an overwhelming majority of sensible, high gas-mileage cars. There were a number of "Smart" cars in evidence, and when you consider that this funny-looking 2- passenger vehicle gets 70 mpg without the benefit of hybrid technology, it certainly makes a lot of sense. It's also a lot easier to park than a full-size car or SUV. There was also a high density of motorcycles and motor scooters, made popular by their extremely good gas mileage and excellent maneuverability in traffic, not to mention the fact that they could be legally be parked on the sidewalk and other places where cars don't go. There were a fair number of bicycles in use as well, and they are the ultimate form of high gas mileage transportation.

Another thing I noticed in Paris was the overwhelming abundance of vehicles that were made in France. There were very few autos from for Japan or Korea, and almost none from the U.S. The Frenchmen love their own cars; even Mercedes and the Mercedes-made Smart Cars are manufactured in France. It seems to me that there is a lesson here for both Detroit and the American public. If you play the brand-name game on the highway, it's downright discouraging to see how many non-Detroit vehicles are on U.S. highways; and when you do see a Michigan-made vehicle, it's likely to be a large SUV or oversized pickup truck. Is it any wonder that our domestic automobile industry is in such big trouble? Is it any wonder that our economy is so troubled and that the dollar is so weak?

What will it take to turn things around for America? It's unlikely that we will ever regain our stature as the world's leading manufacturer — a hard-won status achieved during World War II. Back then, our nation's population topped out at 130 million. Today, we manage to find room for an ever-increasing number of people. But with a still-growing population of 300 million plus, we have run out of affordable housing, the housing market's in the toilet,and the American Dream of bygone days seems very elusive indeed.  

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