Weather forecasts and air alerts don’t always have a good effect

driving-in-fog

From the Stone Age onwards, humans have been trying to predict the weather. Will this be one of the good days to go out hunting and gathering or will we need to take umbrellas? Well, over the centuries, we’ve grown reasonably good at looking up into the skies and deciding what weather is coming. Now there are satellites looking down, we can watch the storm clouds gather and track the storms as they move across the sea toward the land. Science has arrived. It’s the same when it comes to air quality. Back in the bad old days when everyone burned coal to stay warm in the cold winters, thick choking smoke used to invade our cities. Indeed, some cities built in valleys still experience fog and smog as temperature inversion traps pollution in the air we have to breathe. This has led radio and television companies to carry regular updates on what we can expect. Except not everything works out as people expect.

An example from Utah

This state really cares about the health of its citizens so it regularly broadcasts air quality alerts based on the red-yellow-green traffic light system.

The intention was to encourage people to stay home on the days when the pollution levels are predicted to be high. Well, the reverse has proved true. On the days the state announces poor air quality and high ozone levels, there’s an increase in traffic. Why? Because everyone who has the time free drives out of the cities into the mountains or other areas where the pollution levels are predicted to be lower. Let’s say, for example, you have children with asthma who suffer during the bad days. Driving them to areas with clean air gives them vital respite from breathing problems. In other words, this is policies running at cross purposes. The state is actually telling local residents when to leave town and boosting the number of miles driven. This increases the amount of pollution and makes the cities less environmentally friendly for those who remain.

People are rational

Utah-bad-air

you tell people there’s a need to reduce pollution, those who believe you and have the additional cash, will buy green cars, i.e. they will pay a premium on the retail price to reduce climate change. Similarly, if you tell people the air in the valley will be bad to breathe, they drive somewhere else. How big a change in traffic levels has been noted? In the winter 2012/13, traffic to the mountains increased by up to 7% when air alerts were issued. If this trend increases, the state will have to reconsider whether it’s possible to change driving behavior. We buy our own transport because it gives us convenience. The state will have to take other action to reduce the release of pollution into the atmosphere. That means taking on the power generators and local industrial units that burn fuel into the air. That would be a good thing in itself. Perhaps we should all drive out of cities when air alerts are issued.

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