On my cycle to and from work each day, the occasional thought wanders through my head as I pass by the never ending line of vehicles stuck in traffic puffing out gases and soot along the canal. Usually I promise myself I will buy a facemask and go over once again the practicalities of this considering the runny nose which the cold air brings on. As a compromise, I actually try and breathe when I think the air is clearer, between cars or ahead of them, how nerdy is that?
One thought occurs, imagine living in Victorian London choking to death on the coal fumes produced in the city, how did people survive? I suppose back then they knew no better and it didn’t worry them? After all, it was only in 1990 that the use of smoky fuels was banned in Dublin. Then I wondered, what would people think 100 years from now of life in one of our “modern” cities today? Would they consider the air to be filled with toxic pollutants and have a library of illnesses directly correlated to our underlying health records of the time? Would they be living in a much hotter world where they had finally conquered and controlled the production of those emissions which cause harm to the climate and separately those emissions which are toxic to life itself?
This idea of considering emissions in terms of “climate” or “environment” leads to another thought. Whereas CO2, a product of combustion in engines, is a climate change gas and managed via global warming legislation, the other emissions such as CO (carbon monoxide), NOx and soot are toxic pollutants and dealt with under environmental legislation. Cars are tested separately for CO2 and toxic emissions. This fact was exploited by Volkswagen where they admitted cheating US certification tests. When we buy a car we are anxious to know what its CO2 band is, but is anyone bothered to find out what its toxic emissions levels are?
On paper Europe believed it was reducing both sets of emissions. However, as engineers figured out how to better prepare for certification tests, the real world performance of vehicles gradually deviated from the standards. Basing all taxes on CO2 led to a rush for energy efficient diesel engine cars but with a consequent increase in the levels of toxic air pollutants. So much so that now, some European cities have decided to take direct action by banning combustion vehicles from entering the city when thresholds are breached.
Excitingly, the Electric Vehicle (EV) is showing itself ready to meet that requirement to both reduce CO2 and clean up city air. As a consequence, I believe that legislators will become increasingly stricter in their treatment of combustion vehicles which will favour the EV. In fact, several nations have already committed to having only Zero Emission capable vehicles on sale in their countries within a 10-20 year period. These highly efficient cars will be powered by a zero emission European electricity grid by 2050 which will utilise a mix of renewables, carbon capture, fission and probably even some early fusion.
I’ve been lucky to have witnessed once a large fleet of electric vehicles driving along a busy four lane road as part of a demonstration in the centre of Los Angeles. Just for a brief moment, the mad city noise was tamed transforming the area into a friendlier and more peaceful place before the roar of normal traffic resumed.
Whizzing past the stationary cars, I imagine a future row of silent intelligent electric vehicles both with and perhaps without passengers. I could breathe a clean lung full of air and maybe worry less about a suddenly opening door…