National Plug In Day should be yearlong
By Mike Stubblefield 09/26/2013
Air Quality Chair, Ventura Sierra Club; member, Ventura County Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA)
More than 90 percent of Californians breathe unhealthy air. Ventura County, with less than a million residents, has better air quality than Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, and our air is a lot better than all eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley. Yet more than 35 years after the Clean Air Act was enacted, we’re still an EPA “non-attainment” area because we have yet to achieve compliance with EPA levels for nitrogen oxide (NOx), a precursor of ozone and photochemical smog. NOx emissions mix readily with industrial fumes, collectively referred to as “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs). When this airborne toxic brew is subjected to sunlight, it produces photochemical smog.
NOx is produced inside the combustion chamber of every cylinder in every internal-combustion engine. When the temperature inside the combustion chambers reaches 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, an engine becomes a NOx factory. Over the last 35 years, manufacturers have developed a sophisticated array of emission control devices, like exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) systems and catalytic converters, to remove or mitigate most NOx emissions. But a lot of cars and motorcycles, as well as privately owned and commercial agricultural and construction vehicles still in service, are not equipped with these controls, so they continue to spew NOx emissions into the atmosphere.
The damage to human health caused by photochemical smog is particularly harmful to senior citizens, kids and folks with heart and lung conditions like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. It can cause shortness of breath, inflame airways, diminish lung capacity, cause coughing and wheezing, irritate eyes and noses and interfere with our ability to fight infections.
But wait, there’s more! Internal-combustion engines also emit carbon dioxide (CO2). Unlike NOx emissions, carbon emissions are a natural byproduct of perfect combustion in even the cleanest-burning fossil-fuel engine. In other words, even if a state-of-the-art internal combustion engine runs perfectly, emitting only tiny amounts of HC, CO and NOx, it still emits a steady stream of CO2 during operation.
CO2 doesn’t pose the same kind of health issues as NOx emissions, but it’s hardly benign. Carbon emissions —from power plants, industry and all internal-combustion engines — are causing the atmosphere to heat up to historically unprecedented levels. This phenomenon is discreetly referred to by most media as climate change. But calling what’s happening climate “change” is vague and misleading. Polar icecaps are melting and shrinking, raising the level of the oceans, threatening to submerge low-lying islands, coastlines and communities, damaging or destroying habitats and killing off species. So in the Sierra Club we prefer the more descriptive term “climate ”
Regardless of what you call it, the amount of CO2 in our planet’s atmosphere continues to grow at an alarming rate. Climate scientists like NASA’s Jim Hansen and 350.org founder Bill McKibben insist that if the atmospheric concentration of CO2 exceeds 350 parts per million (ppm), we’re in big trouble. We’re already right around 392 ppm, and scientists have recently seen readings as high as 400 ppm. For the record, 2012 was the hottest year in U.S. history, and 2013 will be significantly warmer than last year. The climate hasn’t been this hot since the medieval warming period (MWP), which occurred from 950 to 1250 A.D. But even that era was much cooler than what we’re experiencing now.
What’s the connection between HC, CO, NOx and CO2? They’re all produced by internal-combustion engines. The only vehicles on the road that do not produce any of these emissions are electric vehicles, or EVs. While electric vehicles are not the whole solution to this unprecedented threat to our health and our planet, they’re undeniably a critical part of the solution. (Coal-fired power plants, and even natural gas-fired plants are also a serious problem, and all of us need to apply political pressure on the government to phase out these monsters as soon as possible and replace them with solar- and wind-powered electrical power plants.)
If you’d like to learn how to start becoming part of the solution to this planetwide problem, stop by the inaugural National Plug In Day event of the Ventura County Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA) on Saturday, Sept. 28, from noon to 4 p.m., at The Collection, on Park View Court. (In the heart of The Collection, Park View Court T-bones Town Center Drive, the street that connects Whole Foods to REI). We’ll have new electric vehicles, EV owners who can answer your questions about living with an EV, consumer information about rooftop solar arrays for home charging systems, home-built electric vehicles, the Art Rockers (a popular local rock band), prizes, stuff for the kids, and a lot more. Hope to see you there!
National Plug In Day, which is actually on September 23, is co-sponsored by Plug in America, the Electric Auto Association and the Sierra Club. Mike Stubblefield is the air quality chair for the Ventura Sierra Club and a member of the Ventura County Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA).