How would the air quality change if electric cars were the norm?

Emission reduction due to COVID-19 stay at home orders
Photo credit: Fred Lambert, Electrek

With the coronavirus spreading and stay-at-home orders becoming more prevalent we are seeing a drop in emissions resulting in better air quality. People around the US and the World are reporting being able to see further across cities and to hills or mountains. 

Earther assembled an interactive map to explore the changes in air pollution not just in the U.S. but globally. The map runs on Google Earth Engine and uses data collected by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite, which circles the Earth capturing various types of data. It includes four snapshots from December 2019 through March 20, 2020. The Sentinel satellite data shows nitrogen dioxide, which is a handy proxy for human activity.

“Nitrogen dioxide is produced by fossil fuel burning and therefore often used as an urban pollution tracer,” Barbara Dix, an atmospheric researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Earther in an email. “Burning fossil fuels directly emits a lot of nitric oxide and a little nitrogen dioxide (often referred to as NOx together), but the nitric oxide is rapidly converted into nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere. Nitrogen dioxide can easily be measured by satellite.”

Given that fossil fuels power everything from cars to electricity, nitrogen dioxide satellite imagery really does show the impact covid-19 is having on society like no other dataset. There are clear signs of the virus’ impact all around the world...

(Brian Kahn & Dhruv Mehrotra, Gismodo, https://earther.gizmodo.com/coronavirus-slashes-global-air-pollution-interactive-m-1842473790)

Now imagine if this global decrease in nitrogen dioxide from fossil fuels was to continue past the pandemic. Imagine if we were able to return to work and social lives but without burning fossil fuels to power our vehicles. Imagine seeing people roaming about, streets filled with cars again, society producing at full capacity and the economy growing, while not having to look through smog to see the mountains only a mile away. 

If everyone who has been staying home over the past few weeks were to drive electric cars powered solely by renewable energy, this great air quality could stay with us. 

While that is likely not possible in the immediate future, there are many organizations attempting to accelerate our society to adopt electric vehicles for our futures. Specifically, the Democratic Party tried to include wording to do that in the most recent stimulus package for the current pandemic, while the Republican Party was attempting to set aside funds to bail out the oil industry.

The new stimulus package is hiding a bailout of the fracking industry, which was already dying before the coronavirus pandemic. The solution is simple here. Use this opportunity to boost EVs, solar, and related supply chain + programs to transition workers https://t.co/zHxWg5Jg77 pic.twitter.com/9Sn4KcSWTq

— Fred Lambert (@FredericLambert) March 24, 2020

Both parties ended up dropping the topic and wishes all together to get the bill passed faster. While funds were not specifically set aside for electric vehicle adoption, they were also not given to support the oil companies. 

This clean air we are all seeing through is a direct result of less air pollution primarily from the transportation sector. Building a path for US energy independence through local renewable energy for businesses and electric vehicle use would not only create cleaner air, but also create more electric vehicle design and manufacturing expertise inside the country. That would mean keeping more manufacturing, supply chains, jobs and knowledge in the US.

It becomes a win-win. 

Read Fred Lambert's full review "The coronavirus is showing us how clean the air can be if electric cars were the norm" in Electrek. 

Take a look at the Earther's map as reviewed by Brian Khan and Dhruv Mehrotain in the article "Coronavirus Has Slashed Global Air Pollution. This Interactive Map Shows How" on Gizmodo.

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