Mardy Ying Assignment #4
November 10, 1999
Smog: The Big Story
The beautiful mountain ranges surrounding the Los Angeles region make a magnificent view, but unfortunately the smog problem in Los Angeles prevents everyone from enjoying this. Smog is a large environmental problem that needs to be concentrated on to find solutions. The media, which includes television, newspaper, magazines, and organizations, is delivering messages to inform the public concerning smog, but are these messages expressing the true environmental issues about smog? In the present day world, the media does not adequately explain any environmental issue. Obviously, the media’s main objective is to get the best story; and sometimes the media would do anything to achieve that goal, even if it means to alter the truth and perception. Although the truth is Los Angeles has always been known for its severe smog problem, the media has recently began to hype this problem to the extent of positioning it as disastrous, because the media is constantly on the look out for dramatic news stories.
The smog problem in Los Angeles has been portrayed as being disastrous as the media dramatizes the harmful health effects of smog. The severity of health effects depends on the smog’s intensity and the amount of smog exposure. For susceptible people with asthma or other lung disorder, any weak level of smog could affect their health. As for healthy individuals, a medium level of smog will be enough to affect them. Smog reduces normal lung function on an individual by inflaming the walls of the lung, and therefore causing chest pains and coughs. This description of smog would be a true news story for the media to cover, but based on today’s media standard, this would not be considered a “story”. From the media’s view, a “story” is any dramatizing, heart-pounding, or shocking news that would grab the public’s attention. By warning people to stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities when there is a smog alert is more of an exciting “story” than simply stating the facts about smog. Reporting of an increase in hospital visits for lung disorder caused by smog is also a “story” that is worth covering.
The media greatly publicizes stories about smog causing harmful health effects on children. Children are a symbol of innocence, so a story about them being threatened by smog is unfortunately more of an exciting story than one about children protected from the harmful effects of smog. Recently, the media reported on a big study of 3,600 Southland school kids who had wheezing attacks that are related to nitrogen dioxide found in smog (Cone B1). Smog is now seen as life threatening as it was blamed for the death of a 14 year-old brother of Maggie Perales, a Bell Gardens resident, who died from cancer. The brother attended Suva Elementary School in the city of Bell Gardens that is next to chrome-plating plants emitting high level of toxic chemicals into the air (Cone B1). It is this constant exposure to these chemicals that have caused the cancer found in Perales’s brother. There are many more identical stories about children dying from highly toxic chemicals found in smog, because they either live or attend school near polluting factories. Such a death-related story only personifies smog to be like a murderer as it “contaminate our communities and kill our children” as Maggie Perales reacted upon the smog’s deadly force.
The media has hyped the smog problem by distorting people’s view about smog according to Dr. John Peters, Professor of Preventing Medicine at USC School of Medicine. He said, “I’ve heard people say that living in L.A. is like smoking a pack a dayclearly, that’s nonsense. Whether it’s like smoking one cigarette a day, half a cigarette a day, a tenth a daywe don’t know.” That misconception is an example of how the media has hyped the smog problem made by displaying dramatic news stories that alters a person’s perception on smog.
As our society has grown to hate cigarettes through campaigns, lawsuits, and those bulletin boards ridiculing cigarettes, Los Angeles is also on the same kind of path dealing with smog. The hatred towards cigarettes is a result of the media constantly delivering messages saying how cigarettes are killers, and how the cigarette companies have no sympathy for the cigarette-related deaths. This same trend is now seen with smog as being a killer, causing the deaths of innocent children. As a result, it is now a war to fight the smog problem in Los Angeles.
Agencies and businesses willing to contribute to programs to help fight the smog war is the kind of story the media wants. The hyped-up media coverage on smog has influenced agencies and businesses to get involve with the fight, because they know that their name of the agency or business will be on the news. The South Coast Air Quality Management District holds annual Clean Air Awards to reward agencies and businesses in their work to fight this problem. Companies like Costco Wholesale, GTE, and Long Beach Bike Station received big awards in this year’s Clean Air Award in their contribution in helping to clean the air. A large collaboration of 29 different companies has started a program called Quick Charge L.A., a $3.5 million project that will be installing 200 charging stations for electric vehicles throughout the entire city. The media recognized that such stories about funded programs like Quick Charge is a “story” to show that there are people willing to fight for better air.
In the early fall of 1999, the exciting news about Los Angeles being no longer the Smog Capital of the U.S. has changed what the media has been covering about smog. The media, with all of its hyped stories, has made smog so disastrous that this exciting news was seen as a huge victory for Los Angeles. There was so much media attention on this story that the media began dramatizing how all the hard work and efforts into air quality control have paid off. The way the media presented the news to the public was as if Los Angeles had won the smog war, and Los Angeles no longer has to worry about it.
This was another example of a misconception the media plays on the public, what the media left out was the fact that Los Angeles could very easily become the smoggiest city in the nation. Houston became the nation’s smoggiest city, only because it had the most stage 1 alerts this year, which was only one more than Los Angeles. Los Angeles still has the very potential to win back its unfortunate title as Smog Capital of the U.S. Even though this city has the toughest anti-smog rules in the world, it was the mild weather this year that was most responsible for the better air quality. Weather is critical to smog formation, and its conditions can easily vary so much that it takes years to confirm air quality trends. The weather may easily heat up next year, and Los Angeles would once again win back its unfortunate title. According to Bryan Lambeth, a meteorologist with the Texas National Resource Conservation Commission, ” we aren’t yet ready to declare a winner and a loser in the smog wars”. Tim Carmicheal, executive director of the Los Angeles-based environment group Coalition for Clear Air, believes that even though Houston has won the title, the air in Los Angeles is still bad. Houston has the title, because it had the most Stage 1 smog alerts in the country, but “if you look at the number of days we violate the standards, we still have the worst air in the country. It’s still harmful to our health to breathe the air for many, many days this year.” The city should be proud that the smog problem is alleviating, but what Carmicheal was trying to say is that this victory should be a motivation to improve the air quality and prevent future severe smog problems.
Not only is smog a health “disaster” according to the media, it is also an economical “disaster” for businesses causing air pollution. Because the media has hyped the smog problem, communities and environmental groups have largely emerged to demonstrate against industries and refineries. Business groups are worried about the economic impact of possibly reducing the use of refineries to meet the demands of protestors with their tougher anti-smog regulations. If the new anti-smog rules are passed, companies owning large fleets of diesel trucks will be forced to newly equip their fleets with engines that run on alternative fuel other than diesel. The use of diesel fuel has been the cause of cancer in Los Angeles and contributes a large part of smog formation. The Air Quality Management District has already spent $25 million on replacing just 800 diesel trucks with cleaner engines to relieve some of the environmental pressures of smog from diesel trucks, however those companies will be paying a much higher amount for converting their trucks to better engines if the new plans pass. The new anti-smog regulations are still in debate as business groups arguing that the laws are strict enough for smog control, while the environmental groups and communities are fighting for cleaner air.
The perception and the outright creation of the smog “disaster” that the media has played a role in have stirred up contemporary environmentalism based on individualism and self-gratification. Smog is an environmental concern for Los Angeles, and it is good to hear that there is a rise in numbers of environmental organizations and environmentally aware communities demonstrating and protesting to solve this disastrous smog issue. At the same time, there was also a rise in dramatic smog stories presented by the media to hype the smog issue to the extent as being disastrous and a war “enemy”. It seems most likely that all aspects on contemporary environmentalism ranging from agencies to communities were started knowing that they will be on the 7 o’clock news report on NBC. Contemporary environmentalism is nothing but a selfish act by individuals or groups of individuals taking advantage of what the media has to offer, which is public exposure.
The media is always on the constant look out for potential smog “stories” to make the fight against smog a huge issue. By hyping the smog problems to the extent as being disastrous, the media builds up dramatic news stories that appeal to the public. It has become to a point where these dramatic news stories have motivated the society of Los Angeles to fight against smog, not because this society wants cleaner air, but it wants media attention.