To tackle polluted air holistic, not piecemeal, approach needed

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17[1]According to World Health Organization estimates, globally, one-in-eight people are dying prematurely due to air pollution’s effects. Many more live lives suffering this scourge’s ill-effects, these ill-effects taking many forms. It is important to note that pollution in cities (the big cities especially) is far more pronounced and problematic than that which is present outside them.

One of many facets and facts related to the damage polluted air causes has to do with the amount of money paid for healthcare used in treating those whose health has been adversely affected from such. To provide specificity to what I’m talking about here, just in California’s eight-county San Joaquin Valley, the monetary amount is an estimated annual $6 billion.

Pollution the name, mitigation the game

Thinking transportation, I recently read about Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train celebrating on Oct. 1, 2014 its 50th anniversary. I learned train arrivals at stations are minutes apart with delays of trains of no more than 36 seconds on average. Since the system, carrying riders between Tokyo and Osaka (a distance of 319 miles), first opened, around 10 billion riders have ridden Shinkansen trains. One-hundred-fifty-one-million passengers ride the system each year. Each hour as many as 13 trains per direction scurry passengers between the Tokyo and Osaka stations. Not only is Japan’s bullet train the world’s first, it is as well the world’s busiest.

Staying with high-speed rail, in the Golden State, meanwhile, the number of expected daily and yearly riders looks like what?

In “State of state air: The worse for wear, but nothing that can’t be fixed” I offered, “Projections or forecasts are that 37.4 million people will ride the [planned California high-speed rail system] spine [line] between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles basin anticipating this segment is operational in 2027 and this is at the 95 percent confidence level.

“Of the total forecasted ridership, if those living in California comprise 70 percent of all high-speed-train travelers, then this means 26.18 million residents a year would journey by state high-speed rail. That amounts to a daily in-state resident ridership base of 71,726. Overall, roughly 102,466 daily HSR trips would be taken.”

Furthermore, in “Can, will California’s GHG emissions drop to 1990 levels by 2020?” I pointed out, “indications are there were 31.0141 million registered California motor vehicles and vehicle travel miles totaled 322.849 billion. In two decades, while the number of in-state drivers increased by almost 66 percent, vehicle travel miles more than doubled.”

Those numbers are considerable and one can’t help but see and understand not only the juxtaposition but the implications too – it is not too difficult to envisage the shape of things to come if current trends persist.

Consider this: If 10 percent of all in-state trips by 2027 are rail-based – a time when California’s population is projected to reach 43.7 million (based on an annual growth rate of 1.05 percent), and assuming average motor vehicle fuel economy is double what it is currently and at that time produced on average is half what emissions in the transportation sector are today – there is no question in my mind that the emissions saved by not having to add extra road and highway lane and airport and airport runway capacity, all other things remaining unchanged (such as the price of gas, for example), will have a profound air-corrective effect and make a significant positive difference.

All-encompassing approach needed

So now let’s think about the human-health or quality-of-life implications. What I expressed earlier in the “State of state air” piece bears repeating:

“If there is to be a marked difference in state air quality made, coupled to high-speed rail and heightened [very fuel-efficient vehicle] sales must be a serious rethinking with respect to mode-moving method and/or mode type, travel patterns, land use and building design, energy production, energy consumption – the very things I’ve talked about on this blog – and one I did not yet discuss – manufacturing – in order to help get the air to a state of healthy repair which itself will lead to improved quality of life for all.”

That said, the holistic rather than piecemeal air-cleaning approach is the one that gets my vote.

Image above: NASA

– Alan Kandel