Just in time for National Environment Week (May 31st to June 6th) and National Clean Air Day (June 3rd), Prince George City Council approved the City’s 2020 Climate Change Mitigation Plan. The plan lays out targets and strategies to help reduce PG’s GHG emissions through 34 corporate and 35 community actions, as well as some important facts about the sources of GHG emissions in Prince George.
According to 2017 data, the burning of fossil fuels (to heat homes and power vehicles) is the biggest contributor to the city’s overall GHG emissions, and on a community level, about 52% of Prince George emissions can be attributed to vehicle travel!
As a group focused on the city’s air quality, PGAIR couldn’t help but see a connection...
Prince George’s main greenhouse gas contributors are also big culprits when it comes to poor air quality! One might then conclude that not only can reducing GHG emissions help improve air quality, but that many of the actions that can directly aid in the mitigation of climate change, can also result in cleaner, healthier air.
The actions identified to help achieve GHG reduction targets in PG’s 2020 Climate Change Mitigation Plan fall under 6 categories, with transportation and land use directly linked to air quality. A shift toward more active transportation infrastructure and improved public transit means more people might choose these options instead of their personal vehicles. Increasing the uptake of electric vehicles means fewer and fewer gas and diesel guzzling cars and trucks on the road, as time goes on.
When it comes to land use, actions aimed at limiting sprawl and promoting a more compact community will increase the opportunities for pedestrians to walk to their destinations, or ride if they’ve got a bike, scooter, or board. Protecting and growing the urban forest canopy will mean continued and increased pollution sequestering, and supporting local food production will continue to allow people to make food choices with a much lower transport footprint than imported foods.
On a corporate level, the exploration of green fleet potential could mean even less PM coming from transportation, and the re-activation of the Anti-Idling campaign for all City staff will encourage staff to set a positive example for residents, while reducing needless air pollution caused by vehicle idling.
It’s easy to see the direct connections between climate change mitigation and air quality, but what about connections further down the road?
In Prince George climate change is happening faster than the global average. Here, we’re seeing hotter and drier summers which means extra dust in the air, and more wildfire smoke. Warmer winters spur more damage from forest pests, which means more and more trees that would normally be sequestering carbon, are dying. And lastly, climate change in Prince George means longer and more severe cold snaps, which leads to additional heating needs, and pollutants being trapped in the bowl due to temperature inversions. By working to mitigate climate change and lessen our impact on our environment, we can also help decrease these long-term threats to our air quality.
The good news is, Prince Georgians already seem to be in favour of actions toward climate change mitigation and thus, the improvement of air quality! Residents were surveyed by the city, and the actions we all most agree on include the support of local food production, planting more trees, and supporting active transportation.
This Clean Air Day, try to reflect on what you can do in your own life to help push forward the plan for climate change mitigation and healthier air. If you’d like to get into (or back into) active transportation but need a bit of a push, why not enter PGAIR’s Clean Air Day Caption Contest!? Winners will receive either a $150 or a $50 gift card to get them on the road with a bike. Check it out here - on our website, or at our Facebook page for details.
So far, 2020 has not been very kind: severe Australian bushfires, locust swarms in East Africa, earthquakes in Turkey, and now, the global COVID-19 virus pandemic. As governments all over the world enact measures to slow the spread of the virus, one issue that actually seems to be improving everywhere, is air quality.
Around the world, people who can are working from home, students are not attending school, non-essential businesses are temporarily closed or curtailed, air travel is limited, events have been cancelled, and people are practicing physical distancing. Most social exchanges are taking place virtually and the movement and transport of people has thus immensely decreased. This decrease in activity seems to be the cause for a significant decrease in air pollution.
Areas showing the biggest improvements in air quality are major cities and metropolises. New York, Los Angeles, London, Mumbai, Istanbul, & Wuhan are just a few. In each of these cities, the largest pollutant decrease seems to be in NO2, which is released into the atmosphere mainly by combustion engines, power plants, and other industrial processes. With transportation limited and industry curtailed, it’s easy to understand why reduced levels of NO2 have coincided perfectly with the implementation of COVID-19 measures, especially in areas where these activities happen at such a high concentration. In Spanish cities for example, (shown in the picture below) NO2 levels have declined 64% after the implementation of efforts to flatten the curve. This photo illustrates what satellites are currently observing all over the world.
Atmospheric concentrations of NO2 fluctuate quickly, and vary greatly over space and time. (For example, on weekdays vs on weekends). They are also affected by weather conditions, such as wind, and on cloudy days satellite images don’t always display accurate levels, due to visual interference from the clouds. Some researchers claim that media and satellite imagery assumptions of NO2 reduction may be flawed, and that such assumptions would require observations to be made over a much longer time period in order to be accurate. However, similar observations continue to be made, and in a tellingly large number of places, all of which are participating in practices to help slow the spread of the novel corona virus.
While COVID-19 is hitting the pause button on industry and travel, it leaves us wondering what air quality will look like when things resume. Unfortunately, pollution levels are likely to head straight back up to where they were before the pandemic, perhaps even higher, as industry will be eager to make up for lost time, and people will be itching for some outdoor and social activity.
In the meantime, what could this mean for us here in Prince George? With many residents and businesses participating in the same measures as cities around the globe, will we see an improvement in our local air quality? In the spring, we usually see an increase in pollution likely due to road dust, but with fewer cars on the road, will we experience less of an increase this year? As local industry begins to curtail, will we see a decrease in PM2.5 and NO2 concentrations, or will the industry decreases be made up by households releasing more wood smoke as they stay home?
During this time, it is also important to consider the health implications of living in a somewhat compromised airshed. Will PG residents who contract COVID-19 experience more severe symptoms due to their higher exposure to air pollutants, relative to other small BC cities? Recent studies by both Harvard University and the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine point to a connection between atmospheric particulate pollution and the rate and severity of COVID-19 spread. “These types of findings are very alarming, and show the importance of air quality more than ever” says Hossein Kazemian, PGAIR Director, at UNBC.
Whether or not we see any real impact on air quality here in Prince George, it is important that we learn from this unfortunate situation, and the impacts it is having on global air quality. Maybe it will encourage more businesses and organizations to offer a work-from-home option, now that so many have the resources in place to make telecommuting work. Maybe it will give people an opportunity to evaluate how often they drive unnecessarily, or revaluate their options for transportation. Ideally something will be taken away from this, what we learn can be applied, and air pollution sources can be targeted while also enjoying a strong economy.
Did you know that electric vehicles can help reduce emissions in the air? Electric vehicles have been promoted as part of the solution to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and reduced tailpipe emissions are an added bonus!
PGAIR’s Five- Year Strategic Plan strives to promote a community that is well informed of air quality challenges, actions, and progress. Prince George Residents can reduce major pollutants from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by adopting alternative forms of transportation. Common modes of alternative transportation in Prince George include walking, biking, and public transit. Driving an electric vehicle (EV) is also a form of alternative transportation. With no tailpipe, EVs produce no harmful greenhouse gases. The only associated emissions after production come from upstream electricity generation.
Most vehicles driven in Prince George are powered by ICEs that burn fossil fuels to create mechanical energy to drive them forward. ICE vehicles’ process of burning gas or diesel is responsible for a wide range of health- affecting pollutants. The major pollutants from ICE vehicles are:
· Particulate Matter (PM)
· Volatile Organize Compounds (VOCs)
· Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
· Carbon Monoxide (CO)
· Greenhouse gases (GHG)
· Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)
Prince George certainly has its share of air quality issues, with particulate matter (PM2.5) being a major concern. A local group called the Prince George Electric Vehicle Association (PG EVA) has been educating Prince George residents about EVs and the EV experience. The PG EVA had several EVs on display at Prince George Summer Fest. PGAIR was able to speak to EV owners about their experience with driving electric vehicles in Northern BC.
Here is what PGAIR learned:
There are two types of electric vehicles, Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV). A BEV runs entirely on electricity and must be plugged into an external source to fully recharge. A PHEV uses an electric motor and battery that can be plugged into the power grid to charge, but also has the support of an ICE: most daily commuting can be done entirely on battery power, with the gas engine kicking in for longer trips.
Here are some of the vehicles on display:
1) 2019 Zero FX ZF7.2 Motorcycle
The 2019 Zero FX ZF7.2 Motorcycle is a BEV. This EV is used to commute daily from Miworth to Prince George and back. The electric motorcycle costs about 70 cents for 100 kilometres and can get a range between 80 - 150 kilometres per a charge (depending on speed). This EV can be charged using a simple 110 V household outlet.
2) Chevy Volt
The Chevy Volt is a PHEV. This vehicle is owned by McElhanney, an engineering consulting firm in Prince George. The Prince George branch of McElhanney is the first of its branches to convert to EVs. McElhanney plans to convert their entire fleet to EVs as their older vehicles wear out.
3) Tesla Model 3 2018
The Tesla Model 3 is a BEV. This vehicle is driven in Prince George and does well on the winter roads. The top range for this EV is approximately 400 kilometres per a charge in the winter and 500 kilometers per a charge in the fall, spring, and summer. One great feature of this car includes the Tesla phone application; drivers can warm up their car without through the touch of a button on a smartphone. Since it is a fully battery powered vehicle, there are no emissions from pre-heating or idling.
PGAIR is proud to announce that the second North Central BC Clean Air Forum on June 4th and June 5th, 2018 in Prince George, British Columbia was a resounding success. Representatives from regional districts, municipalities, First Nations communities, health-related non-profits, academia, provincial ministries, and the concerned public all gathered in Prince George to learn, network, and focus on the important health topic of air quality.