Friday, February 5, 2010

water pollution, the iron curtain and an infamous interview

When I was 12 years-old, I did a report on water pollution where I state that, “I became interested in the environment when things started to become pretty bad.” I went on to say, “I heard one time that experts say in the year 2000, or later, Los Angeles will not be a suitable place to live. It will be black and with not that much breathing air. The ozone layer will be diminished and the heat will be immense. I don’t think there will be anything living...”

Wow! What books was I reading back then!? My teacher, Miss McIntrye, must’ve got a kick out of this report. Nineteen years later some people may argue, for other reasons, that Los Angeles isn’t a suitable place to live, but luckily it still has breathable it somewhat brownish-gray.

In any case, with the launch of the Plastiki getting near- the boat made out of recycled water bottles, which I’ve mentioned here – I thought it might be informative as well as entertaining to share the interview portion of my Water Pollution report, where I interview my Uncle Rod who was working as an Environmental Engineer at the time in...gulp, 1991. If you know my Uncle Rod, and even if you don’t, you’ll probably find this interview entertaining because it's pretty clear he is talking "adult" to a 12 year-old kid. "Iron Curtain", "Toxicology", "Glasnost", just some of the words that I can still recall going right over my head during that interview, but one of the reasons you gotta love my uncle. Also, Miss McIntyre must’ve told my class to note the body movements of our interviewee, because you'll notice that I wrote down every single motion my uncle made.

But on a more serious note, water pollution, unfortunately, is still making headlines today (a la the Plastiki Expedition). So what I state as the purpose in my 1991 report, is still relevant in 2010: “I would like to find out about the water we drink and how humans can save it. I would also like to know how we can make our future pollution free.”

Interview with Uncle Rod, January 1991:
I came in the room and he was sitting in his chair crossing his legs and putting his index finger on his forehead. I sat down in the chair across from him, hearing the sound of typing and people chattering in the background.
I smiled and my first question was, “How bad do you think the water will be within the next few years?”
He cleared his throat and answered, “I think in the United States the water is actually cleaning up. It’s probably getting better, but I believe that the oceans and third world countries are beginning to worsen because of the terrain number.”
After that he sat forward in his chair and I asked him the next question.
“Do you think the Bay Area and other places in Northern California are going to become as smogged and polluted as Southern California, near the Los Angeles area?”
He smiled and answered. “No. I don’t really see that coming in our future. I think people will continue to clean up like they are starting to now.” He then sat forward in his chair and watched me write down his answer.
After a few seconds, he said, “Did you know that L.A. was polluted even before my future and yours was even born? When population increases, roads are used by more people and the pressure on the environment increases.”
After he told me that, I scribbled it down quickly and asked him, “If people keep littering, by the year 2010 or later, is there still going to be breathing air and suitable places to live? And if so, where would people go to live; and if people stayed, do you think they would start to clean up their own litter?”
He laughed and answered, “That’s occurring right now. People move away from their litter right now, there will probably be no place to live in the future because it will be all clogged up so we’ll move to a different country.”
I asked the next question. “If fish keep getting contaminated by litter in the ocean, and people catch the fish to eat, is it possible the people could get sick by their own litter?”
He uncrossed his legs and sat back and answered, “Oh yeah, if we fried the fish it would still happen.” He told me to write down “toxicology question.” So I wrote it down and he finished answering the question, saying, “Pollutants, especially heavy metals such as mercury, are found in the effluent of many municipal sewage systems and industrial outflows. They are absorbed in the fat tissue of the fish where they concentrate throughout the life of the fish; and when we eat them, we close the circle of the poison.”
After I finished scribbling that down, I asked my next question which was, “In a few years, do you think there is going to be any difference in the world (like if people stop polluting?).
He sat forward in his chair and said slowly, “On a global basis the world will be cleaner.” He turned in his chair and asked me if I knew about the thing behind the Iron Curtain? I said “No.” He turned his chair to a drawer in his desk and took out a magazine. Then he set it on his desk and looked through it. He looked up and said, “Well, I can’t find anything on the Iron Curtain right now.” Then he finished answering the question I had asked before. He said, “The Soviet Union and other eastern countries, have been under extreme environmental duress, now the Glasnost has occurred, they’re facing their problem.” Then looking happy, he sat back in his chair probably feeling satisfied about his answers.
I stood up and thanked him for his time in my interview.

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