It's Valentine's Day So Love Is in the Air. Unfortunately, It's Not Alone

It's February the 14th so you're probably thinking - or kindly being coerced to think - about celebrating love. Considering the sea of red we're basking in at the moment, you couldn't escape it even if you wanted to.
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However, no matter how much crimson they throw at us, it can barely cover the very gray reality for just one day. But what about the other 364 in the year? And the 365 after that? The quality of the air we breathe is getting worse, and our lungs can't be too happy about it.

Sure, the U.S. is still far from matching the awful levels of pollution seen in major Chinese cities, but if that brings anyone any comfort, it's because they're used to setting the bar very low. You can choose to look at the worst possible case and say, "it's alright, we're doing better," or focus on the most successful nation in regard to pollution and say, "we want to be just like them." At the moment, it looks as though the U.S. is a bit undecided.

Depending on who you ask, the quality of the air above U.S. soil has been either improving or deteriorating over the last few years. The EPA, for instance, falls into the former category, claiming a near-constant improvement for all measured sources of pollution. These include gases (sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, ozone, carbon monoxide) as well as particles (PM2.5 and PM10), with both types harming human health and wellbeing either directly or indirectly.

However, back in April 2020, the American Lung Association warned that nearly half the American population - 150 million - still "lived with and breathed polluted air, placing their health and lives at risk." So, it's a classic case of who to believe. On the one hand, you have a governmental agency that's meant to fight pollution and, therefore, needs favorable numbers to justify its very existence. On the other, you have a nonprofit organization with the sole goal of improving lung health for the entire population. You take your pick.

One explanation for the discrepancy between the two versions is that the EPA relies on emission estimates to compile its data, while others use field measurements from actual sensors that track the air quality directly. That means major events such as the Californian wildfires can go undetected by the former, while they'll measure bigtime in the readings of the latter.

You're probably wondering by this point where do cars fit in all of this. We all know internal combustion engines emit pollutant gases and particles, but their weight in the overall scheme has been the subject of debate for a very long time. Some people like to claim that the world's largest ship alone emits more greenhouse gases than all the cars combined over the course of one year, while others think road transportation is the biggest culprit and wouldn't mind seeing all cars take the way of the scrapper.

Obviously, they're both wrong. According to the EPA, "highway vehicles" play a very important role in the release of nitrous oxides (NOx) - they account for about a third of the total quantity - and an even bigger one for carbon monoxide. Other than that, the contribution of road-going vehicles is pretty negligible.

The thing with cars, though, is that they tend to deliver their nasty stuff very close to where people live and, since they can't prevent it, breathe. On top of that, while other emissions such as carbon dioxide may have an important effect on global warming and whatnot, those oxides of nitrogen that vehicles are so keen to release into the atmosphere have a much more direct impact on our lungs.

This is why arguments against EVs on the basis that they too pollute during the production cycle shouldn't be ignored - and manufacturers should definitely do their best to sort things out - but people shouldn't ignore the benefits of having only EVs on the streets either.

As long as the grid is filled with green energy and the environmental impact of building that battery is reduced, the positive effect - especially in dense urban areas - of zero-emissions vehicles roaming the streets can't be overstated. Think of it this way: behind what type of car would you rather sit and take a deep breath?

So, yeah, it's Valentine's Day and love is in the air. It just smells a little funny and it's kind of bad for your lungs.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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