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When trying to escape the big city for a more natural setting, travelers usually seek breathtaking views and fresh air. Unfortunately and suprisingly, that desire for fresh air disqualifies one of California’s most famous destinations: Sequoia National Park.
Though Sequoia is home to some of the biggest and oldest trees on Earth, it also has the worst air pollution of any US national park! It’s said to be as bad as Los Angeles, with a haze that sometimes becomes so thick, visitors are cautioned against hiking due to the obstructed views, and rangers are warned of possible heart and lung damage that can result from the job. The air quality can impair lung function even in healthy people, causing coughing, sinus inflammation, chest pain, and scratchy throat. In addition, the trees soak up the pollution instead of CO2, inhibiting photosynthesis and resulting in yellowing needles on trees such as the Jeffrey and Ponderosa Pines. Already struggling saplings are even further stressed by the smog, putting the forest’s future into question.
How did one of America’s most scenic locales become so polluted? While it doesn’t help that it’s near two of California’s busiest highways, a variety of food-processing plants, and cropland tilled with diesel tractors, factory farms of the nearby San Joaquin Valley have largely contributed to the stink. The farmland houses millions of cows and sheep raised for meat and dairy, and their decaying waste from feedlots and fertilizers emits ammonia which, when touched by the sun’s rays, turns into smog. The smog then rises and settles in the park, ultimately damaging the forest and our lungs.
While farmers spend millions to upgrade their equipment, fearing fines if they fail EPA tests, these efforts don’t tackle the root of the problem: animal agribusiness is damaging delicate habitats.
Choosing delicious, vegetarian meals is the simplest and most effective way to minimize our footprint and keep our bodies, animals, and the planet healthy and thriving.