Friday, July 17, 2020

Road noise and what we can do about it

I'm really noise sensitive.  Perhaps you are, too.  I did some research reading and am collating it here.

(My local main street of Artesia Boulevard is painfully loud.  My ears ring after I've walked more than a couple of blocks along it.)

First off, I found a recently published book that has an entire chapter about Traffic Noise By Sanja Grubesa and Mia Suhanek. BTW, I just learned about IntechOpen, an open access science book publisher. This is so much better than the for-profit model. I'm looking at you, Elsevier Press.

Brubesa and Suhanek wrote a concise and excellent chapter. I'm excerpting a little bit but I hope you click on the link and read it yourself.
Road traffic noise depends on the following three factors:
  • Type of road vehicles.
  • Friction between the vehicle wheels and the road surface.
  • Driving style and driver behavior.
What types of vehicles?  In general, bigger vehicles produce more noise.

Electric vehicles don't produce any engine noise. Some hybrids run in all electric mode at low speeds (below 10 mph for our family's car.)  In congested city driving, electric and hybrid cars reduce traffic noise relative to normal ICE, Internal Combustion Engine, ones.

Vehicles also produce wind noise from the turbulent air that they produce as they travel.  Blocky vehicles create more turbulence.  Aerodynamic ones produce less.  Many economy cars and older minivans are wedges on wheels, delivering better fuel economy and less noise than trucks and SUVs.

The fashion for making minivans "cooler" by shaping their front ends to be more vertical and blocky like SUVs is so bad for noise, fuel economy and public safety for everyone outside the vehicle.  SMDH

Tire noise is a major noise generator.  Tread matters.  If you ride a bike, listen to the difference between smooth and knobby tires.  Car tires are similar, only the car cabin insulates you from having to hear the noise of your tires.  Everyone outside your car notices and is cursing you.

In general, the larger the tire-street contact area, the bigger the noise.  So you may buy the bigger tires for more cabin comfort/smoothness, but you are creating more friction and making more noise.

The heavier the vehicle, the greater the noise.  So EVs have silent engines, but may have greater tire noise.  To have decent driving range, their batteries are heavier than carrying an engine and a tank of gasoline.

The faster the driving, the greater the wind noise.  That's why Noise Increases with Vehicle Speed.

At 30 mph, a typical auto may produce 62 decibels, about the noise of a human conversation. At 54 mph, the same auto would produce 72 decibels. Decibels are a logarithmic scale so an increase of 10 decibels is a doubling of noise.

California had an 85% rule.  The fastest 15% of drivers determines the new speed limit.  Over time, the speed limits on urban arterials climbed from 35 to 40 to 45.  This has been a disaster for road safety for people outside of cars.  It's also made cities noisier.

What can you do about road noise?
  • Reduce the number of cars.  Pedestrians and bicyclists are mostly silent.
  • Lower speed limits and enforce them.
  • Reduce vehicle sizes with sticks and carrots.  People are using cars much too big for their daily needs. (They can rent larger vehicles as needed.)
  • Increase the distance between noise generators and people.  
  • This and the next 2 figures are from this Traffic Noise Factsheet
  • Replace a car traffic lane with a protected bicycle lane and wider sidewalk. The bike lane protector is a low wall that protects the bicyclists from swerving automobiles and creates a noise shadow. A waist-high wall can make the stores & restaurants along arterials much quieter

Trees don't do anything to reduce noise, but they provide much-needed shade to counter the urban heat island effect.

Speaking of urban heat islands, ICEs produce a lot of heat.  Burn anything and it produces heat. Reducing the amount of ICEs on the streets, and making engines smaller would reduce urban heat, noise and air pollution and climate change.


Thursday, July 16, 2020

More face mask science

I'm emotionally exhausted by the pandemic and all the crappy news.  I've posted links to useful Covid-19 information when I come across them on microblogging platforms like IG and Twitter.  It's just easier than blogging.  But, there is also value to putting it on a blog, with more context and explanations.

I've written about masks in The mask/no mask dilemma back on March 18, when some US government messaging was that masks were not effective for the lay public. A lot of people have written about that bad messaging and I'm not going to belabor it here.  Professor Zeynep Tufecki does it as well as anyone.

Anyway, I also posted some cool visual proof of the efficacy of masks in This is why we wear masks. Those are Schlieren images and show breath vapor, not the motion of aerosols and droplets, which will stay even closer than the images shown.

Almost any type of cloth face covering will catch droplets. Most multi-layered ones will catch the majority of the aerosols as well. Masks hold your air closer to your face than without masks.

As Dr Lucy Jones says, "don't share your air."

In my first post, I (and many readers) didn't know what they meant by "Cotton Mix" but were impressed by its filtration efficacy.

After reading this subsequent article, I learned that it was Cotton/Poly blend. Polyester, and any fabric that has static cling, has electrostatic properties that attract and hold particles. That's why your furnace filter is made of polyester fabric. In fact, some people were buying furnace filters and cutting them up to insert inside their DIY masks.

Read Aerosol Filtration Efficiency of Common Fabrics Used in Respiratory Cloth Masks. I excerpted some figures and a table from the paper. Even though it is published in a scientific journal, it's written so they lay public can understand it. It is freely available and I hope you download and read it. It's good.
We have carried out these studies for several common fabrics including cotton, silk, chiffon, flannel, various synthetics, and their combinations. Although the filtration efficiencies for various fabrics when a single layer was used ranged from 5 to 80% and 5 to 95% for particle sizes of <300 and="" nm="">300 nm, respectively, the efficiencies improved when multiple layers were used and when using a specific combination of different fabrics. 
This figure shows that filters can trap particles by either mechanical filtration (tight weave) or by electrostatic attraction.

Cotton, the most widely used material for cloth masks performs better at higher weave densities (i.e., thread count) and can make a significant difference in filtration efficiencies.
Notice that Cotton Quilt fabric (medium weave 120 threads per inch) performs better overall than the 600 threads per inch Cotton except at larger particle sizes?  Looser weave Cotton (cheaper quilting cotton at 80 threads per inch) does a lousy job.
Filtration efficiencies of the hybrids (such as cotton–silk, cotton–chiffon, cotton–flannel) was >80% (for particles <300 and="" nm="">90% (for particles >300 nm). We speculate that the enhanced performance of the hybrids is likely due to the combined effect of mechanical and electrostatic-based filtration.
The hybrids do a better job than pure Cotton. Some even outperform surgical masks, which were never designed to catch smaller particles.  (They were designed to catch larger droplets exhaled by health care workers to protect the patients.)

Our studies also imply that gaps (as caused by an improper fit of the mask) can result in over a 60% decrease in the filtration efficiency, implying the need for future cloth mask design studies to take into account issues of “fit” and leakage, while allowing the exhaled air to vent efficiently.
The biggest factor is fit. Isn't that the #1 reason why we sew?  We can customize the fit.

We also sew for improved comfort and face masks are no exception.  If the mask fits and is comfortable, we can wear them for as long as we need.

Pay attention to the pressure drop.  It doesn't matter if the weave and fit are tight, but it's too hot and uncomfortable to wear.  I know that I can wear a real surgical mask while riding my bike or for a long-haul airplane flight.  So I want a combo that has a similar pressure drop of 2.5.  I'll sew something with a good enough filtration efficiency, with the same comfort rating.

Overall, we find that combinations of various commonly available fabrics used in cloth masks can potentially provide significant protection against the transmission of aerosol particles.
Notice that, in every case, more layers offers more protection. 

If you read up on Brownian motion, you learn that smaller particles move faster and encounter more obstacles than larger particles.  So your fabric or filter material doesn't have to be tight enough to mechanically trap the smallest aerosols.  A filter can alter the particle trajectory so that it comes at a slant instead of perpendicular to the filter.  That makes the particle more likely to be caught by subsequent layers. 

That's the magic behind multiple layers.

Knit fabric structure kind of has those layer properties, which is why just one layer of t-shirt jersey can be effective.  Aerosol expert, Professor Linsey Marr, Tweeted that she wears a knit gaiter-style mask single layer when running outside and then doubles it up (by rolling the top over her nose and mouth) if anyone is nearby.

I've come to the realization that I need a wardrobe of masks for different situations.  I'll make some knit gaiter ones for outdoor exercise.  I'll make some fitted woven ones for my essential trips to indoor locales.

It's time to bust out all my cotton/poly or cotton/silk mixes for fitted masks and some high-performance poly knits for gaiters.

I wear a mask to protect you. You wear a mask to protect me. We can sew our own and make it a fashion statement.

Finally, read Masks offer much more protection against coronavirus than many think. Even if the mask is not 100% efficient at filtering out aerosols and droplets containing Coronavirus, it reduces the dose of exposure. So, even if we do get sick, the illness is milder.

"Perfect is the enemy of good," means that waiting for perfection to act is a bad strategy.  We can always strive to do better, learn more.  But we already know enough and have the tools to reduce our collective risk by a huge amount.  Let's all be good enough and defeat this pandemic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

This is why we wear masks

We have a preponderance of evidence that Covid-19 is spread by aerosols and large droplets expelled through our mouths when we talk and through our mouth and nose when we sneeze or cough.  We also have plenty of evidence that (nearly) universal mask-wearing in public is extremely effective in Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2.  The linked article by Prof. Kim Prather et al is written extremely clearly in plain English and I highly recommend reading it.

I'm embedding two videos because they are helpful to understand social distancing and wearing masks.  But, it's important to keep in mind that they are showing hot air instead of droplet and aerosol motion, which does not spread as far.

Schlieren or shadowgraph imagery shows changes of thermal patterns in the air. We expel heated air, which will mix with ambient air and might waft upwards (hot air rises.)  Large droplets are heavier and will fall downwards. Aerosols might hang around a few minutes to hours, but eventually fall.

With these caveats, these images nevertheless demonstrate the effectiveness of wearing face masks that cover the nose and mouth.

First, this charming* video of NIST scientist, Matthew E. Staymates, working from home. Note how his breath stays much closer to his head when he wears a mask vs when he doesn't. This is why mask wearing, along with social distancing, dramatically reduces transmission risk.  Remember, this is showing hot air; virus-containing droplets will most likely by caught in any type of mask as long as it covers the mouth and nose.

I particularly like that he wears different styles of cloth masks sewn by NIST colleagues, who did socially-distanced handoffs outside his home.  All types of masks work as long as they are comfortable enough for you to actually wear them over both your nose and mouth.

This older video demonstrates how much air you exchange with others just in normal face-to-face conversation.  It starts with normal nose breathing, then mouth breathing, talking, coughing, conversation, etc.

I'm cautious and minimize my shopping trips.  When I go into stores, I use hand sanitizer, then put on my mask and then enter.  I don't touch the mask until I get back outside.  This protects me.  It protects you.

Give people without masks a very wide berth, 2 meters or more, and minimize your exposure to them.  If someone takes off their mask to talk in a store, run away.  They've contaminated everything within droplet distance.  If they talk loudly, that can be far greater than 2 m.   If a store allows unmasked people to enter, assume all surfaces are contaminated.  (This creates so much more work and risk for retail workers.)

If all staff and shoppers are wearing masks, I would not stress about breaking the 2 m bubble for a short time. Remember, it's also the viral load in a short amount of time that is dangerous.  If you get a tiny bit of viral load, and you have a healthy immune system, your body would destroy the viruses before they can get a toe-hold in your respiratory tract.

When I see people wear masks under their nose, I give them wider berth, but don't say anything to them about it.  They tried, but maybe they are too uncomfortable.  Or maybe they are conspiracy theorists who don't understand that oxygen and carbon dioxide pass through the masks just fine.  Either way, I don't want to engage with them.  A mask that covers their mouth would still contain droplets expelled by talking unless they sneeze or cough.

For those of us in low-risk settings (not health care workers or people who work around others all day) the best mask is the one you will actually wear.  If you try to make it too efficient at filtering, it can be difficult to breath through, or get soggy from your exhaled breath.  If you take off your mask when indoors (other than in your own home,) then you lost protection.

I walk and bike outdoors without a mask, but carry one in case it gets crowded.  I'm coming around to the idea that perfect is the enemy of good and I may sew lower-coverage masks that don't extend as far across my cheeks for outdoor exercise and gardening.  The best mask is the one that you will keep on.

* Maybe I'm biased because I got my PhD at a NIST lab.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Undermining science and scientists

The news this week is full of stories of science being undermined by political appointees.
I'm cleaning up browser tabs and came across a story I meant to write about 5 years ago. In 2015, I wrote VW and the dark side of AI about how VW was cheating on diesel engine smog tests.

This global map of tropospheric NO2 was produced using data from the Envisat's SCIAMACHY sensor in 2004.

Science funding is very scarce.  If you are lucky, you will get one or two opportunities in your scientific lifetime to be involved with a new satellite sensor.  Around 2004, I met scientists who were validating and calibrating the SCIAMACHY sensor.  They couldn't figure out why they were detecting more NO2 than were supposedly being emitted.

They were working off emissions inventories which took into account all the known emitters of NO2.  They knew all the fixed sources like factories and power plants.  They could estimate the mobile sources (vehicles) based on the amount of gasoline and diesel sold and the expected emissions from those vehicles.  So what was wrong?  The emissions inventory (and associated models) or the satellite sensors?

This discrepancy troubled scientists for 10 years while VW and other diesel vehicle manufacturers brazenly lied and cheated.  Imagine how much science could have been done if scarce people time and money weren't wasted trying to reconcile pollution measurements to falsified emissions data.

Back then, I had never heard of the term, gas-lighting.  Man, I am a member of several routinely gas-lit many groups: women, people of color, scientists.  All that fury is bubbling out right now.

Go take a look at these and other figures of NO2 that wasn't supposed to be there.

Water Rights and Water Rights

If you were to explain legal water rights in the western United States to someone who knows nothing about it, I don't know if they would believe you. It's so ludicrous and steeped in historic inequality, I can't defend it. I wrote a little bit about it in Living history back in 2015.

Our Boulder condo straddles a water ditch, but our HOA does not own the water rights to the rain and snow on our property.  In fact, our rain gutters feed into the ditch because some white farmers, back in the 19th century, filed paper claims to the water that falls on our property in perpetuity.  If we need water, we have to buy it from them, or someone similar (all white men), who was granted water rights by the white men who ran the government at the time.

Do I have your attention?

Back in April, I posted the first half of my March 2020 report to the LWV/LAC about water safety in Los Angeles County.

Here's the water affordability background and discussion.

Back in 2012, California enacted AB 685, now Water Code Section 106.3.  It statutorily recognizes that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.”  Safe and clean are already defined by multiple water quality laws federal and state.  Declaring it doesn't make it so.  You have to add some homework and $.

In 2015, that was followed by AB 401, which requires the CA State Board of Equalization and other stakeholders to develop a plan for funding and implementation of the Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program.

In 2019, SB 200 established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to assist low-income Californians.  The law spelled out how it would be funded, but the implementation details are still being worked out.

The California Water Board released a report on low-income water affordability to satisfy AB401; related to AB685 and SB200:

  1. Direct bill assistance (does not help renters whose water bill is included in rent)
  2. Renters’ water credit (gives help once a year while water bills are monthly; poorer families move more frequently and may not be on lease or receive aid)
  3. Crisis assistance can be added to either option 1 or 2 and can keep the water from being shut off.
  4. Set $ assistance per household assumes 3 people at 49 gpd (gallons per person per day) and does not take into account household size.
Shortly after this report came out, Covid-19 hit.  Governor Newsom issued an executive order that protects homes and small businesses from water shutoffs for non-payment during the pandemic.  Water service providers still have to purchase and provide water, but they may not necessarily get paid for it.

It is absolutely vital that everyone gets water, especially during a pandemic when good sanitation is a life or death matter.  But what about the water providers?  Some were already struggling financially before the Covid-19 crisis because their customers were already economically struggling.  Yet, help from the state from AB401 still hasn't arrived.

The stopgap may be the same solution as for water safety: merging the struggling water service providers to stronger ones.  Strong can mean many things, including access to clean water through paper water rights and/or money to purchase water from those that hold paper water rights.

One such scenario is playing out right now in southeastern Los Angeles County.  I'm following it closely and will do more research before blogging about it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The inequality of COVID-19 deaths

The data and data analysis is rolling in on the inequality of COVID-19 and it doesn't paint a pretty picture about our society. I'm not going to dwell on it here because regular readers will know how I feel about that and how hard I am working using my limited bandwidth and my personal need for emotional distance from the enormity of it all.

Let's just discuss air pollution, statistics and bicycling--three perennial favorite blog topics.

First off, read the synopsis of Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: A nationwide cross-sectional study. You can also read the full study on

Results: We found that an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate (95% confidence interval [CI]: 2%, 15%). The results were statistically significant and robust to secondary and sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions: A small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate. Despite inherent limitations of the ecological study design, our results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis. The data and code are publicly available so our analyses can be updated routinely.
This is only county-level data and represent deaths only up to April 22, 2020.*
Fig 1: Maps show (a) county-level 17-year long-term average of PM2.5 concentrations (2000‒2016) in the United States in 𝜇g/m3, and (b) county-level number of COVID-19 deaths per 1 million population in the United States up to and including April 22, 2020

A risk ratio is the amount of risk you incur relative to some baseline or reference group.  The baseline can be the average, e.g. the average air pollution exposure of all people.  In the case of Black people, the ratio is computed relative to all people who are not Black.

Earlier estimates pegged an increase of 1 𝜇g/m3 in PM2.5 with an 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.  The analysis was recomputed taking into account confounding variables to separate out the risks of being poor, being black, density, etc.

It turns out that living with more pollution is deadly--even just 1 𝜇g/m3 more of long-term PM2.5 exposure increases your risk of dying should you catch COVID-19 by 8%.  For context, the national average is 8.4, 𝜇g/m3.  The California legal limit is 12 𝜇g/m3 and the Federal limit is 15 𝜇g/m3.

Table 3: Mortality rate ratios (MRR), 95% confidence intervals (CI), and P-values for all variables in the main analysis.
Being black in the US is deadly.  COVID-19 is no exception.  It increases your risk of dying by 45% (1.45 ratio relative to non-black people living with the same air pollution exposure.) P-value** is a measure of how sure we are of the finding.  A lower number means we are more sure.  In this case, there is zero doubt that anti-black racism kills.

In contrast, the association with density is less certain.  A p-value of 0.40 means there is a 40% chance the association isn't really true.  Better than 50/50, but still weak.  The association with home ownership is stronger (but still weak)--perhaps because older people are more likely to own their homes?

Anyway, I just want to point out that racism and environmental racism kills.

Because of the link between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, governments around the world are trying to keep people from getting back into cars.  In Los Angeles, we have done nada, zip, zilch.

An emergency bike lane in Bogotá, Colombia, March 2020. Photo by Gabriel Leonardo Guerrero Bermudez/iStock
* I live in anomalous Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the US with 10 Million residents and 88 cities.  In contrast, NYC has 8.4 Million people in 5 counties that make up 1 city.  I look forward to more granular analyses of within-county differences later.

** Physics professor Eric has written an excellent guest-blogger series clearing up misconceptions about P-values.

I've got a busy day ahead so I'll save the rest for later.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Can flying ever go green?

Define green.

Today I learned that United Airlines uses biofuels from municipal sewage for a portion of their jet fuel for flights out of LAX.  In 2016, they contracted to purchase up to 15 Million gallons of biofuel over 3 years.  At the end of the contract, they signed up to purchase up to 10 M gal/year, doubling their use.

In 2016, WaPost wrote that the biofuel would be blended in a mixture of 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional fuel.
But the use of biofuels is one possibility for existing machines to cut down on their emissions without having to upgrade their engines or other aspects of their design or engineering. “Drop-in” fuels are renewable fuels that are designed to work safely with existing engines, although as in the case of the United flights, they sometimes require mixing with traditional fuels.
This is analogous to cars in California using a blend of 15% bioethanol and 85% gasoline. If the ethanol comes from grains like corn, then the carbon savings is minimal.  If the bioethanol and biomethane comes from food waste, then the payoff is bigger.

Putting it in perspective.  United Airlines used 4292 Million gallons of fuel in 2019, of which 5 M gal was biofuel.  Even if they were to double that to 10 M gal/year, that would be 0.2% of their fuel use.

So, biofuels in airplanes is better than diesel.  But it's even better if we cut down on our flying overall.  It doesn't have to be much.  Cut down on one round trip long haul flight per year and it's as much carbon savings as if you traded in your gasoline-powered car for an electric car.

I copied the figure from Quantifying the potential for climate change mitigation of consumption options, which I also wrote about in New Paper on Global Data-Driven Climate Actions.

We cut back on personal flights so that we make one long-haul trip every few years.  I was supposed to fly home from Germany yesterday-today.  Bad Dad was going to represent his family at the commemoration of the liberation of Bergen Belsen 75 years ago.  The ceremony will be postponed.

We don't fly long distances for short trips.  We make fewer, longer trips.  We had planned to spend 3 weeks, visiting Berlin, Munich and some smaller towns in between.  I even planned to show him the small town where I had been an exchange student in high school (German Gymnasium.)  It will have to wait.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Poor planning and governance, not density, is the problem

I want to push back against the idea that density and transit necessarily have to spread COVID-19. Dense NYC may be the site of a particularly bad outbreak, but much denser Asian and European cities did much better despite high transit use. The difference is in better institutional planning and personal actions for disease containment.

Density is not the problem. It's the type of density. If you ban Asian metropolis-style apartment buildings, you get low-paid workers crammed 4 to a bedroom in a single-family home in Elmhurst, Queens, NYC. Or 23 people in a house in northeast Los Angeles.

In the words of Richard Florida
But even in the U.S., it is not density in and of itself that seems to make cities susceptible, but the kind of density and the way it impacts daily work and living. That’s because places can be dense and still provide places for people to isolate and be socially distant. Simply put, there is a huge difference between rich dense places, where people can shelter in place, work remotely, and have all of their food and other needs delivered to them, and poor dense places, which push people out onto the streets, into stores and onto crowded transit with one another.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

New Paper on Global Data-Driven Climate Actions

Local experience is not always generalizable. But, you sum up research on a bunch of places, and then patterns emerge. In Data-Driven Climate Action (for Los Angeles) I said:
In summary, decarbonizing transportation has the highest potential for stopping Climate Change, but it requires collective action. We can’t choose to bike along a street that doesn’t create a safe space for us or take a bus to an evening concert if the buses don’t operate at night. An urban area is precisely where these two modes can excel, if we let them. We don’t need a solution that works in Iowa or New Hampshire or even Fresno. We have the existing density and the weather to do this right here, right now. Let’s paint those streets Green (bike lane) & Red (bus lane).
A recent meta-analysis by Diana Ivanova, John Barrett, Dominik Wiedenhofer, Biljana Macura, Max W Callaghan and Felix Creutzig, examined
6,990 records in the Web of Science Core Collections and Scopus. Searches were restricted to 1) reviews of lifecycle assessment studies and 2) multiregional input-output studies of household consumption, published after 2011 in English. We selected against pre-determined eligibility criteria and quantitatively synthesized findings from 53 studies in a meta-review. We identified 771 original options, which we summarized and presented in 61 consumption options with a positive mitigation potential.
They really did their homework on a global scale.  Climate mitigation measures were broadly separated into transportation, food, housing and other.  The combined findings are plotted together on a single box and whiskers chart.
The findings for each study are plotted with circles.  The extreme values are marked with "whiskers" at the end of the bars showing the full range of values. The 25th and 75th percentiles bound the "box". The average value is marked with a large X. The median is marked with a vertical line. 

For context, we need to reduce global CO2 productions by 55% to limit climate change to a global average of 1.5℃ (We've already warmed up 0.8℃ and 1.0℃ is already baked in due to past emissions alone.)  That means each person on earth can contribute 2.1 tCO2eq/cap (metric tons of CO2 or equivalent of emissions  per capita per year.) Americans and Australians contribute 16.7 and 16.2 tCO2eq/cap of emissions.

Note that some of the mitigation strategies can cause negative reductions or increases in CO2 emissions. The authors call that rebound--when the cure is worse than the disease.

The biggest difference that we can make, with the least cost and risk, is to live car-free. I get a lot of eye-rolling, mainly from older people in the US, when I mention this. We are apparently so exceptional in the US that physics and logic could simply not apply to us.

We know how this worked out for COVID-19. Ignore scientists and the results are apparent in a few weeks.

We have been telling you to get out of your car to save the planet for decades, and the result is so slow-moving, that we've been ignored or told we are crazy.

Physics and viruses don't care. They do what they are going to do.

Here's a closer look at just the transportation sector. See the range of values for "Live car-free?" The extreme high value is for ditching an SUV, which also happens to be the most popular car style in America. Losing the family SUV is a huge savings of about 3.6 metric tons of CO2 per capita per year.

I can already hear the, "Yes, but" crowd pointing to the Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV).  Don't they offer almost as much CO2 reduction?

The answer is maybe.  Notice that a significant chunk of the data points for BEV fall in the pink, rebound area, where they cause a net INCREASE in CO2 emissions.  E.g. the BEV is charged with fossil fuel-generated electricity or other externalities that cause other emissions to go up.  Los Angeles falls in the pink area for the reasons I explained in Data-Driven Climate Action (for Los Angeles).

Notice Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs) at the bottom?  Hydrogen fuel cells get a lot of hype, but don't save CO2 emissions and they run a huge rebound risk.

I've been accused of confirmation bias because I keep pointing to cars as the culprit for so many ills.  Look at the data.  The biggest bang for the buck is to reduce the distances that you travel, and then travel in the most environmentally-light way.  Walk, bike,  eBike, eScooter, transit, carpool, drive a fuel-efficient car (small and/or hybrid, or BEV.)

Our family made the calculation that, a BEV would be a fine SECOND car, but not our ONLY car.  We drive to SF visit family and have seen the waits to use the fast chargers on Interstate 5.  We also like to take family car trips to remote places with no BEV chargers.

I have seen the South Bay CCOG statistics of car ownership.  I've seen the Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) data for Los Angeles county.  In the relatively affluent South Bay, there is about one car per licensed driver.  We have 1 car for 3 drivers. We've essentially taken 2 cars off the road compared to our neighbors.

By having only one car, and making it a fuel-efficient hybrid, our entire family has had to learn how go about our daily routines without a car.  This leads to non-linear savings.  If you always have a car available to you, you use it.  If you can't count on having a car available, then you learn to make most of your trips without a car.

Learning to live "car-light" saves us money, reduces air & water pollution, mitigates climate change, reduces competition for parking spaces in our neighborhood and forces us to get more exercise.  Those are all very positive outcomes and does not require us to wait for a build-out of BEV charging infrastructure.

Ivanova et al strikes an optimistic note.  If you just do the top 10 changes, we make substantial global progress.
The top consumption options (by medians) include substantial changes in car travel (living car-free, shifting to electric vehicles and public transport), air travel reductions, use of renewable electricity and more sustainable heating (renewable-based heating and heat pump), refurbishment and renovation, a shift to a plant-based diet and improved cooking equipment. The top 10 consumption options together (accounting for the overlap of car travel alternatives) yield an average annual mitigation potential of 9.2 tCO2eq/cap. While crudely estimated, this indicates a substantial mitigation potential of already available low-carbon consumption options towards achieving the 1.5-2°C target.
Make the changes that you can, given the society that we live in. Then organize to create a society where more of us can make choices that are better for the planet. We collectively built the auto-centric landscape in the past 70 years. We can collectively rebuild it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Los Angeles County Water Quality: Good News

Finally, some good news. Well, this report is nearly 2 months old, but I think we need some good news right now.

As I mentioned before, I am the Natural Resources chair for the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles County. I write a monthly roundup about environmental issues for LWV voters and opportunities for action. The LWV LA County board meets on the first week of each month, so I wrote this roundup at the end of February/beginning of March. If you want to get on the dissemination list for the monthly reports, leave a comment with your email address. This is just the part that pertains to water.

Executive Summary
LA county drinking water supply is exceptionally safe compared to the rest of the country and state, but arsenic and coliform bacteria contamination of rural drinking water supplies on the northern edge of the county is a concern. Water affordability is a major problem everywhere but Sacramento is working on it. We should prepare for another drought year.
Longer Story

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation published a major water report:
Community Water Systems in Los Angeles County: A Performance Policy Guide

LA County drinking water supply is generally very safe and much safer than other parts of the country and CA. Primary Health Maximum Contamination Load (MCL) violations are exceptionally low and concentrated in rural sites along the northern border of LA county.

[In general, rural water systems struggle the most under the burdens of agricultural and mining contamination, naturally occurring arsenic and selenium, and the cost of running longer pipes between low-density housing developments.]

See the green line bouncing near zero at the bottom, that's LA County.  With 10 Million people, we have a pretty big denominator.

The Antelope Valley Times breaks it down further. Only 5 water systems, with about 1,600 total customers, were unable to meet safety standards for levels of naturally-occurring arsenic.  (All water systems met the other safety criteria.)  "Each of them has agreed to provide alternate drinking water to customers until the systems are able to serve water that meets standards."

All 5 systems rely on wells and are near the northern edge of LA county and 4 of the 5 are mobile home parks.  Assuming an average household size of 3, that's less than 5,000 out of 10 million people whose tap water is unsafe.

That's still too many, but the number has been going down as smaller, poorer water systems are merged into larger and wealthier ones.  Thus, the cost of securing and distributing clean water can be shared between more customers.

John Fleck's book, Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West, has a chapter of how Los Angeles county cities cooperated and managed groundwater for the common good (starting in the 1940s!) The rest of the state is struggling (unsuccessfully) with their own Groundwater Management Plans 80 years later.

When I went to meetings with pro-environmental groups, I've heard people decry water contamination and bandy about talking points that are not supported by evidence.  One woman exclaimed that jet fuel and other chemicals have been found in groundwater everywhere.  I tried to rebut that, but no one in the room wanted to hear it.  So I'm going to vent now.
  • There are a few places where groundwater is contaminated, but they have mostly been cleaned up or are in the process of being cleaned up or contained.
  • Well water is regularly tested in LA County.  If it is contaminated, the well is no longer used and the source of the contamination is investigated and cleaned up.
  • If the groundwater beneath your area is contaminated, your tap water is imported from other areas with cleaner and safe water (except for the 1600 households mentioned above)
  • Tap water is regularly tested and the results are sent to each household in your water bills.
  • The main problem with our local water supply is the hardness (Total Dissolved Solids aka TDS).  I use a Brita filter to remove some of the TDS and chlorine smell for the water I drink. 
  • My landscaping plants prefer soft rainwater over hard tap water.  We try to harvest runoff from rooftops and the driveway and direct that into the landscaping. This reduces salt build up in the soil and the amount of irrigation water that we use.  Win-win!

So why are so many people buying bottled water?

Truck drivers are risking their lives to keep our stores stocked with necessitiesGrocery workers are dying of coronavirus.  Do not put them at risk to haul, stock and sell stuff that you don't need, like bottled water.  Drink tap water.

Use a filter (if you have it) or just fill containers with tap water after you do the dishes and let the water sit over night.  The chlorine taste will dissipate and the water will taste fine.

In the words of Prime Minister of Sint Maarten, Silveria E Jacobs, the water is not going to stop.

Her full address is posted on YouTube. She comes on around minute 23. The famous clip starts at minute 60:

This is not a hurricane. The water is not going to stop. Don't rush to buy water. Buy enough food and toilet paper to last for one to two weeks.

"If you do not have the type of bread you like in your house, eat crackers. If you do not have bread, eat cereal. Eat oats."

Similarly, Coronavirus is not an earthquake. Yes, you should have a few gallons of water per person in your earthquake kit. But you do not need to purchase more bottled water right now. Drink tap water and you may save the life of an essential worker.

Off soapbox. Now go wash your hands.