Q&A with Kat
I moved to Southern California permanently in 2006, about a month before the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach adopted the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP). As I pursued my energy efficiency consulting work, I was fascinated by everything I was hearing about it—how the ports rolled out their initiatives, the push and pull over how to proceed, and the competing interests of so many people and groups.
Everywhere I went I heard anecdotal stories about how CAAP got started, and different versions, depending on who was doing the talking. Official documents told the technical tale, but there didn’t seem to be a single source that told the story of what happened and why. That’s when the light bulb went on: There was no single source because the story is so complex. Yet, there was a need to tell it because what has been happening at the San Pedro Bay ports can help other industries and communities, like my hometown in Poland. In hindsight, I was constantly taking notes and creating this book in my mind from that point on. This led to the next step: Sitting down and writing it.
I always had an inquisitive mind and knew I wanted to do something that made decent money. I was hungry for knowledge and liked medicine, so at first I figured I would become a doctor. Not just any doctor, a plastic surgeon. In high school, I studied chemistry and biology until I remembered that I couldn’t handle procedures like giving someone an ejection. Breaking the skin would always feel to me like I was doing harm, even if it was needed to help.
So, midway through my high school years, my mom helped me convince the school to let me switch to math and physics. This forced me to learn calculus over Christmas vacation, but somehow I managed. These subjects were a natural fit and I was accepted to engineering school at the best polytechnic university in Poland. The university offered a wide range of specializations including an emphasis in ecology, which appealed to me because I always cared deeply about the environment. But the ecology option offered little to no job prospects, so I chose the more established mechanical engineering program. Over the years, I’ve been able to combine all these passions in my work as an energy, technology and sustainability consultant.
Southern California was the first place I came on my first trip to the U.S. At the time, my brother was working for Carnival Cruise Lines and had arranged for my parents and me to take a cruise out of Long Beach. I never imagined I would live here only a few years later. I’ve loved it ever since.
Southern California is so complex. I love the fact that we have so many different cultures. People are more understanding and accepting of the differences. The complexity also makes Southern California a hub for the many challenges communities all over the world are facing —pollution, transportation, jobs, technology, and managing precious resources like clean air and water. All are issues that affect daily life around the globe.
Long Beach feels like home because I was born in a port town, although you don’t need winter clothes here like you do in Poland. And while the Port of Szczecin-Świnoujście is much smaller, the community faces the same issues: What drives the economy also causes us to breathe bad air. It’s never black and white, so how can we work to get together to do the best we can for everyone? Southern California is a place where people from many different walks of life are working to find solutions.
I have a lot of passions. I do a lot of research and reading. I’m like a little kid who is endlessly curious about how things work. Lately, I’ve been looking into how the brain functions, not just the science of how it works but also how we make connections, how we make decisions. I also love to learn by doing. I understand things better if I can do them. And I know I really understand something if I can explain it to others, especially children.
Absolutely! We know so little about this virus, but we do know it attacks the lungs and can be deadly. This is especially true for people whose respiratory systems are already compromised by pollutants such as particulate matter, SOx and NOx, which contribute to severe breathing problems like COPD and asthma.
The pandemic is also devastating the global economy, causing unprecedented unemployment and straining markets for basic goods. In the U.S., the current administration is taking the position that relaxing environmental rules and regulations will jumpstart the economy. These policies will expose people to more pollution at the exact moment when the opposite is needed.
There are positives. Actors are making inspirational videos, musicians are performing to raise money to pay for medical care and equipment, and many people—rich and poor—are doing what they can to help others. People are spending more time with their family. People are thinking. People are being creative. Their great ideas will lead to innovation, and we will emerge with a better, stronger economy.
Researchers are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine, and their progress will lead to important advances in medicine, artificial intelligence and other lifesaving breakthroughs beyond just stopping the virus itself. Others who are working so we can stay home—doctors, nurses and other health care providers, police and firefighters, grocery store and delivery workers—deserve our endless gratitude. Right now, so many are doing so much to save lives every day. Making sure we have clean air, water and soil protects us all for generations to come.
During this pivotal moment, I’ve been at home writing and more motivated than ever to finish this book.