Life and Death on South Mountain

I went for a hike with my sister Barb and her husband Harv. It was wonderful. We all hike at sort of the same speed. Hiking in the mountains is one of the best things about the Sonoran Desert. Yet sometimes it makes you think. This was one of those days.

We drove up the South Mountain to get to the top of it. The valley looked magnificent. Except for one problem: It was not a minor problem. It was smog. We started with a couple of wonderful overlooks, but the sight of smog in Phoenix disturbed me. Of course this was not the first time I have seen it, but it sure is disturbing from on top of this mountain in the city. What are we doing to this  wonderful valley? When you think about it you realize it is disgusting.

Not a pretty picture

Some people seem reluctant to admit that there is smog in Arizona. To me it was obvious. Almost every time we drive from San Tan Valley to Mesa or Phoenix we can see haze in the distance. This is not fog. Phoenix does not often have fog. But it often has smog.

According to WebMD, “The greater Phoenix area  is the 5th worst for smog in the United States!

It is true that fewer people in the United States are breathing smoggy air, thanks to clean air laws. At least for now. No doubt Donald Trump will soon get around to dismantling these laws just as he has so many other regulations that he claims are bad for business. They are bad for bad business; they are not bad for good business.

Smog or ground-level ozone, still poses a health threat. About one-third of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air. Air pollution can make it hard to breathe and increases one’s chances of having lung cancer, asthma, heart attack, strokes, and other nasty diseases. Yet what is the American Congress doing about it? Here is what The Guardian said about it, 

More than half of the US population lives amid potentially dangerous air pollution, with national efforts to improve air quality at risk of being reversed, a new report has warned.

A total of 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association, raising their risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart disease, reproductive problems and other ailments.

The association’s 17th annual “state of the air” report found that there has been a gradual improvement in air quality in recent years but warned progress has been too slow and could even be reversed by efforts in Congress to water down the Clean Air Act.[1]


I don’t know about you, but this does not sound very pleasant to me. I don’t want Donald Trump and his cronies to get rid of these “job-destroying regulations” as he keeps calling them. I think they are vital.

More recent studies do not paint a rosier picture either. As The Huffington Post reported recently,

Air pollution isn’t among the causes of death that medical examiners list on death certificates, but the health conditions linked to air pollution exposure, such as lung cancer and emphysema, are often fatal. Air pollution was responsible for 6.1 million deaths and accounted for nearly 12 percent of the global toll in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.[2]


As Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai advised, “Air pollution is one of the great killers of our age.”[3]  Many have pointed out before me that the right to breathe is pretty darn fundamental. It is right up there with the right to clean water and fertile soil and bio-diverse ecosystems. We can’t live long without clean air. Yet we treat the world as a garbage dump.

I think George Monbiot puts his finger on the problem–Our lives of endless consumption. As he said, “Our consumption is trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce.[4]

         Monbiot also asked a very pertinent question:

This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing. If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% of its vertebrate wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress? [5]

This is my opinion:  Our modern industrial system (capitalism and its imitators) has clearly demonstrated that it is anti-life. It has been great at producing stuff, but this stuff is killing life on the planet. When will it be our turn to be killed? Who is next?

I do not for one minute deny that each of us is responsible. We have to learn to curtail our consumption. We must do better. We cannot continue to facilitate the destruction of life on the planet?

Yet at the same time, we must remember that corporate capitalists are good–very good–at manufacturing desires in us. They spend a lot of money buying advertising, spin, and propaganda to convince us that we need their products. And by and large that money is well spent. It works.

Standing on South Mountain I thought about these things. I didn’t do anything about them, but I did think about them. Is that enough?

[1] Oliver Millman, The Guardian, April 20, 2016

[2] Erin Schummaker, ‘Air Pollution is Killing Millions Around the globe each year,” The Huffington Post, January 23, 2018

[3] Erin Schummaker, ‘Air Pollution is Killing Millions Around the globe each year,” The Huffington Post, January 23, 2018

[4] George Monbiot, “Its time to shout stop on this war on the living world,” The Guardian, (October 1, 2014)

[5] George Monbiot, “Its time to shout stop on this war on the living world,” The Guardian, (October 1, 2014)

One thought on “Life and Death on South Mountain

  1. a come to jesus moment, johnny? but i doubt you will overcome the think/do divide. very few do until a second coming actually occurs. like the first nation people in the bayou in nawlilns who are having to relocate to the mainland because of rising sea levels.
    given the astonishing traffic jams in the stonybrook somebody should start measuring air pollution levels there during the rush hours.
    you are ridiculously prolific, sir.

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