Yesterday, as I browsed the internet for headlines, I tuned into CNN for some background noise and by the end of the day my mood was as dark as the news. I have made it a habit to not tune into news channels for that very reason. Don’t take me wrong. My job entails absorbing a huge quantity of news. But for me, personally, the sort of news I thrive on is more along the lines of environmental issues.

It occurred to me, after cringing through stories of a troubled economy, that perhaps a lifetime of environmentalism and other lost or unpopular causes has given me a different perspective on the state of the world. I can sum up that difference in two words: unshakeable optimism.

I see a world which has become more self-aware and activists of all types joining together to create big changes. Taken individually, these actions can seem insignificant. Viewed as a whole, however, they become a force to be reckoned with.

That is why a little story from News Channel 19 in Chattanooga, Tennessee caught my eye. In a vow to reduce carbon monoxide by 7% from 1990 levels, volunteers are planting trees. Since last year they have planted a variety of trees in downtown neighborhoods, 620 of them in fact. The trees will not only absorb carbon monoxide, they will reduce the need for air conditioning by providing shade for the heat-absorbing concrete.

So back to the headlines. Stimulus spending, joblessness and energy problems. What better way to tackle all three head on than by planting trees? How many miles of highway do we have in this country just waiting for armies of workers to plant air-cleaning trees? Barren city streets scorching in the summer sun? Farmers’ fields blowing away from the lack of wind barriers? Vacant city lots devoid of life? Perhaps the greening of America should be more than a concept, maybe it should be a reality.

I admit, I am very partial to trees. I spend a lot of time out walking under them. They are a reminder of the solidity and continuity of life, the enormous potential for growth, and hope. Perhaps America needs a little of that right now.

Many of the trees I walk thru, many of the trees in the county in which I live, were planted there as part of the WPA work program during the depression. According to the old timers our beautiful rural landscape once looked like central Illinois, flat and treeless. Now it is a haven for much of Wisconsin, because of all of the beautiful trees. staff writer

Date: 11/14/2008

PHOENIX (AP) _ Cooler weather has created ideal conditions for the return of the seasonal brown pollution cloud over the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Visibility was rated as poor Thursday by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality although pollution levels did not climb high enough to trigger a health watch or warning.

State air-quality officials issued a health watch Tuesday after a weekend cold front stirred up dust and other particulates and trapped them over the Phoenix area.

“We are going to see much more of this as we head into the winter months, especially in the mornings and evenings,” said Holly Ward, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Air Quality Department.

Pollutants such as dust, vehicle exhaust and particles from wood-burning fireplaces accumulate in the air and get trapped there by a temperature inversion.

An inversion occurs when a layer of cooler air develops close to the ground, beneath a warmer layer. The warm air acts like a lid and keeps the cool air and the pollutants in it from mixing and dispersing.

Such inversions are common in Phoenix during the winter.

Particulates pollute the air year-round but become more noticeable and more of a health risk during the winter months when inversions occur.

Maricopa County officials have devised a plan to reduce particulate pollution and have submitted it to federal regulators. If the region continues to exceed federal pollution limits, it could lose billions of dollars in transportation funding.

The particulate alerts, which differ from the ozone alerts issued during warmer months, usually become more frequent as temperatures fall, especially as more people use wood-burning fireplaces.

If pollution levels climb too high, the county will declare a no-burn day and ask residents not to build fires.


Information from: The Arizona Republic,

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.