Air Pollution

November 11, 2020

Going hand-in-hand with global warming is the most commonly known form of environmental change, air pollution. Greenhouse gases trap heat from the Sun to help regulate the temperature of the planet. The Earth is all about balance; low concentrations of greenhouse gases can bring about ice ages, whereas high concentrations heat the Earth.

Emissions from agriculture, transportation, landfill, and buildings are all disrupting that balance. Following the Industrial Revolution, the production of greenhouse gasses rose drastically. Since 1880, the Earth has warmed a little over 2 degrees Fahrenheit overall, according to NASA.

The Bay Area is no exception. Since the 1950’s the average temperature has risen 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and in 2018 San Francisco ranked 49th out of the 723 worst air polluted cities in the U.S., according to IQ air. These statistics are quite frightening on paper, but those fears became a reality to the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly.

As the name implies, these butterflies display a beautiful white and orange checkered pattern on their wings. They only reside around the Bay Area, specifically Edgewood Preserve, Kirby Canyon, Coyote Ridge, and San Bruno Mountain State Park. Of the sites listed, the butterflies of Edgewood Wildlife Preserve, located next to Highway 280, were hit the hardest by air pollution.

Initially, the preserve was home to a healthy population until 2003, when the butterflies disappeared. It was soon discovered that nitrogen from car emissions helped invasive grasses take over the hillside and overrun the native plants; the butterfly larva’s food, as well as the butterflies themselves, went extinct. Since 2007, scientists and volunteers have continued to reintroduce these butterflies to Edgewood. They mow down the invasive grasses and release caterpillars from the neighboring communities into the reserve. The Bay Checkerspots of Edgewood has been making their slow recovery.

Bay Checkerspot Butterfly
The Bay Checkerspot Butterfly, native to the Bay Area, are victims of air pollution.

The story of the Bay Checkerspot in Edgewood leaves both a sinister and hopeful note for air pollution in the Bay Area. California is fighting to resolve that problem, potentially saving species in a similar situation as the butterflies. By 2045 California has a goal of going carbon-free. Furthermore, on Sept. 23, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an ambitious executive order:

“In the next 15 years, we will eliminate in the state of California the sales of internal combustion engines; we will move forward to green and decarbonize our vehicle fleet here in the state of California. As a consequence, substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as oxide nitrogen meaning NOx emissions here in the state of California. In so doing, it will improve air quality, as well as improve the economic climate here in the state of California,” Newsom said.


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