EVs May Help Show Cars Are Not The Villains Ecologists Think They Are

A UC Berkeley study shows LA will not be free of pollution only by driving electric cars.

When people say reality is stranger than fiction, we have to agree, especially when faced with stories like this one. If an author wrote that trees could be more pollutant than cars, environmentalists would ask for their crucifixion. Yet, this is the conclusion a UC Berkeley study came to after reviewing aerosol pollution levels in LA.

What the researchers found out by measuring air pollution for 20 years was that vehicular aerosol pollution dropped a lot in the city, possibly due to the massive adoption of EVs and hybrid vehicles. In 2012, the concentration of PM2.5 (particulate matter below 2.5 micrometers) dropped by half compared to that in 1999. That means that cleaner vehicles did their part in reducing pollution.

The researchers also discovered there were no PM2.5 violations from 2016 to 2018 when temperatures were below 68ºF (20ºC). Above that, PM2.5 levels raised. When thermometers indicated more than 100ºF (37.8ºC), 70 percent to 80 percent of the days exceeded the NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quality Standard) threshold.

When they started to analyze what pollution source was sensitive to temperature variation, they discovered that Mexican fan palms and oak trees release a good deal of organic chemicals when the weather is hot. The conclusion was that an average of 25 percent of the aerosols in the Los Angeles basin comes from the estimated 18 million or more trees in that area.

With that in mind, even if every car in Los Angeles were electric, pollution would still be an issue there. In a way, electric cars helped prove that cars are not the villains that ecologists like to present. When they burn fuel, they contribute to pollution, with the aggravating circumstance that they do so in a limited area. Yet, they are far from being the only source.

According to Ronald Cohen – an atmospheric chemist and UC Berkeley professor of chemistry involved with the research – the study does not suggest cutting the trees to solve the issue. Instead, it would be nice to select plants that emit fewer organic chemicals. Choosing the right car to drive is not enough, and that’s a good thing. Cleaning the world demands a lot more effort than driving green.

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