The most important thing to remember about our inversions is that the air is dangerous to breathe. And not just a little dangerous, as if the damage you do to your lungs will heal itself in a week or two like a cold or the flu. It won’t! The damage you do to your lungs when you breathe big lungfuls of orange or red air is permanent.
If life situates you in a place where mass transit, carpooling or walking or biking (wearing a respirator mask, of course) just won’t get you where you need to go, there are things you can do to reduce the amount of pollution you create when you drive.
Most important, short term, is to reduce the number of miles you drive on bad-air days by consolidating or postponing trips.
In the long run, the type of car you drive is most important. If you can afford an electric car, buy one. In Utah, the electricity you charge your car with comes from coal (unless you have a solar rig like Rocky Anderson). Fortunately the coal-fired power plants aren’t in the Salt Lake Valley (though some of the natural gas-fired power plants are).
Also, do the little things:
- Turn off your engine if you will be idling for two minutes or more. It’s the law. (Exempt: idling as needed to operate defrosters and heaters to prevent a safety or health emergency.)
- Change your oil on schedule.
- Change your air filter on schedule.
- Keep your tires properly inflated.
- Pay attention at stoplights (ahem, texters) so that as many cars as possible can make it through the light before it changes.
- If you’re waiting to make a left turn, pull into the intersection so that, again, more cars have a chance of making it through.
But all of that can be negated by aggressive driving habits. Whether during an inversion or when our air is crystal clear, sensible driving habits reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Give yourself enough time to make your trip unhurried. Avoid the step-on-the gas, step-on-the-brake driving that lowers fuel efficiency. If your car doesn’t have a fuel economy gauge the best measure of the economy of your driving is how often you use your brake. The more you use your brake, the more you’ve used too much gas (unless you’re driving a hybrid that recharges as you break).
Fuel economy can be a fun game if your car has a useful fuel economy gauge. The best gauges show both your instantaneous fuel economy and trip fuel economy. Making a daily, or trip-based game of increasing your gas mileage is an effective way to focus on fuel economy. You may not get where you’re going in record time, but you can feel a bit better about driving.
View the full “Love Your Lungs” article here.