Friday, 7 November 2008

Smog Alert, Still Air and Selfish Pleasures: Using a Car on a Day of Much Pollution

This is supposed to be the fourth day of a smog alert in Montreal. We went the summer without a smog day because of cool temperatures and a lot of rain and wind: the air was so pure that a suburban transit agency which had promised free rides on smog days to cut down on automobile travel didn't have to cough up any. This week, though, a very calm air mass accompanied by a temperature inversion layer has settled over Greater Montreal. Temperatures are above normal—as high as 18 C (about 70 F) on Wednesday—which doesn’t help matters. The real culprit, Environment Canada says, is the absence of winds.

Perhaps the still air contributes, but I’d say that our reliance on cars is a more important factor in producing smog. For the first time in more than a week we took the car out yesterday to run some errands that couldn’t be done on foot, like go to the lumber yard and the Jean Talon Market. But I felt guilty coming home across the mountain because as I started down the air smelt exactly like it did frequently when I was a kid on Southern California.

Air quality, I’m told, improved in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. A sudden drop in production at smoke-spewing factories was the reason. There may be an echo of that in the next little while as the world economy struggles along. That should not be an excuse to let up in our concern about pollution, however. In fact, putting money into public transit projects may be just what Dr. Keynes ordered. More about that another day...

And there may come a time when we’ll figure out a way to go to Langevin et Forest (THE place for good wood around here) and back with a load of lumber without polluting!

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