Look around. See the mountains. Breathe in the air. In the Salt Lake Valley, we have seen an unprecedented improvement in air quality just over the past few weeks—all because people are staying home during the COVID19 pandemic.
But it’s not just my observation, a NASA article, documents it from space, showing that nitrogen dioxide levels in Wuhan, China, have become virtually undetectable. By staying home, we are all participating in a real-time science experiment that demonstrates how reducing tailpipe emissions can dramatically improve air quality.
Imagine being able to enjoy fresh, clean air and gorgeous mountain vistas permanently. Imagine how clean air will improve our health, especially for people (including small children) who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful world? Wouldn’t this make America great again?
And now fast-forward several months, when life returns to normal after COVID-19, and imagine all the cars and trucks once again clogging our streets and highways and spewing pollution into our air. Imagine returning to the days of choking air inversions, not being able to see the mountains and the return of respiratory illnesses.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Today’s air quality is a real-world example of what life would be like if the roads were filled with electric vehicles (EVs), and gas and diesel vehicles only made up a small portion — the inverse of today’s vehicular make up. Our state and federal governments should learn from this lesson and implement incentives and mandates to reduce the number of gas and diesel vehicles and increase the number of EVs. However, the White House just announced that it is reducing vehicle emissions restrictions. Unbelievable!
I bought my first Nissan Leaf in 2012 — an “early adopter.” Sure, it only had a 40-mile range, so I had to carefully plan my trips and keep my old minivan as a back up vehicle. Now, I drive a 2019 Leaf that has a 150-mile range. I only use my minivan for long trips or hauling large items. Before COVID, I only needed to charge my Leaf every other day. Now, working at home, I only need to charge it about twice per week.
Now, before you say, “But EVs pollute because the power plant has to generate the electricity to charge them,” consider how much electricity or polluting natural gas is used to power our other modern conveniences like hot water heaters (versus on-demand which use so much less energy), hot tubs, clothing dryers, furnaces and air conditioners, and even electronics such as computer monitors and TVs (that many people leave on all day for “companionship”). Yet no one is turning these items off because they strain the power company or cause pollution. Also, keep in mind that our means of producing electricity is moving toward zero-emission renewables, making EVs the clear long-term choice.
After I bought my EV, I closely tracked my electric bill. It increased about $15 per month. I bet that operating an electric hot tub uses much more energy, and operating a gas one pollutes (as do all our gas appliances). I don’t have a hot tub, so I figure that I’m even. And, if I had rooftop solar, my Leaf would be net zero!
As a society, we have put EVs on the fringe. But if Utah had adopted a plan to reach just 50% EV market penetration when EVs were introduced here in 2012, imagine how much better our air quality would have been during all of these intervening years.
As we gaze upon the majesty of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains during this stay safe, stay home period, think back to those nasty air inversion days, which will return as soon as the COVID restrictions are lifted, and ask yourself, “Why am I still driving a gas vehicle.”
Kim Correa, Murray, is a mother of two and EV owner since 2012.