3 Ways to Reduce Inversion

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Image from lookingatthewest.com

By Carter Harrison

For most Utahn’s, winter means two things: beautiful snow and terrible air. In Northern Utah, along the the densely populated Wasatch Front, air quality is a life threatening issue. There are many reasons why the air quality is bad during this time of year. Geographical factors, meteorological systems, or the millions of people jam packed into a relatively small area in the state all contribute to this problem. However, the culprit everyone blames is inversion. The term “inversion” is heavily associated with pollution and poor air quality in the state, although, bad air quality is more a symptom of this event than anything else.

Inversion occurs when the temperature of the air increases with altitude. As a result, the high pressure air up in the atmosphere acts as a lid for the cooler and lower pressured air closer to the ground. It is especially bad for communities that are positioned between mountains. When inversion occurs, the particulate matter pollution created by wood burning, vehicle exhaust, or even buildings, sit deep in the bowl-like valley with nowhere to go but inside our lungs. As the population of Utah and other Western states grows dramatically over the coming decades this will become a bigger threat to people’s health. However, improving air quality is not a lost cause! By following some suggestions from the Utah Division of Air Quality we can improve air quality.

1. Stop Idling Your Cars

According the the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, 48% of the air pollution is attributed to vehicle exhaust. This includes cars, planes, buses, and even lawn equipment like snow blowers and lawnmowers. With this in mind, many municipalities have taken action to reduce vehicle emissions and minimize the effects of poor air quality caused by inversion. For example, the city of Logan, Utah instituted an “anti-idling” ordinance for all city residents. During the winter, it is common for drivers to start their car and leave it running in order to warm up the engine and interior while also clearing the windshield of any ice. The city has asked all drivers to keep any idling to under two minutes. However, idling isn’t always the best choice.

In Proverbs we learn, “idle hands make one poor,” and so it is with idle cars. An idle vehicle emits just as much greenhouse gas as one that is driving. With every passing minute a car remains on and idle is another minute we increase the risk of breathing in pollutants. It has also been estimated that for every hour a running vehicle is idle nearly an entire gallon of gas has been used. Every ounce of gas in a car is precious and wasted gallons are hit to the wallet.

The purpose of this is not to guilt trip you into stopping these bad habits. No one can blame you for wanting to drive in a warm car when you live in a tundra. However, we need to become more conscious of the effects our choices have and keep our “idling” to a minimum. The free market seeks to make this task easier for us all. FrostGuard Protech is one example. They have created exterior windshield protectors to prevent frost and snow from ruining your morning and they are as cheap as $12 at Walmart or Amazon. It may not keep the inside of your vehicle warm, but it can save money and from poor winter air quality by minimizing or eliminating idle time.

2. Make One Trip

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality also suggests consolidating errands or trips to reduce the amount of drive time. Many stores such as Walmart, Smith’s (for you Utahn’s) allow online shopping. The beauty of technology is convenience. Consolidating drive time will lower air quality problems.

3. Buddy Up

The final suggestion comes from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and it is to carpool when possible. Technology has again made this simple task so much easier. At the touch of a button, venmo makes it possible to reimburse our friends or neighbors for the gas they used to make a trip. However, carpooling or ride-sharing can be done for simple things as well.

If you are in college or living with a roommate, plan trips together to the grocery store or to campus. If you make plans to meet up for lunch with friends ride together! While the majority of vehicles on the road are far more fuel efficient than those of even 15 years ago, the number of vehicles on the road have increased by over 30 million. Regularly participating in ridesharing, which has now been made easier by things like Venmo, Uber, and other transaction cost reducing technologies, we can reduce the number of cars on the road and reduce our emissions footprint.

Remember it’s up to you!

Of course, each of these suggestions may seem small and insignificant and that may be true if only a handful of us decide to make these changes. Remember that even pennies can create riches. Inversion is characteristic of the valleys in which we live, however, we don’t have to allow it to negatively affect our health or communities. Technology and the entrepreneurial spirit in the United States have made reducing our emissions footprint simple and convenient. By applying even just one of these easy suggestions into our routine can help thousands of Americans. This winter, let us all resolve to do our part in improving the quality of the air we breathe.

Strata is committed to finding innovative solutions to important environmental issues such as air quality. To learn more about how policy aimed at tackling even the most difficult of environmental problems we face, check out these Strata research projects: