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Breathing deeply. (Advice & dissent: letters from our readers).

"Bad Air Days" by April Reese (November/ December 1999), was a commendable piece drawing attention to a very serious problem, but fell short of addressing the real problems affiliated with polluted air and the associated health problems affecting millions of Americans.

First of all, outdoor air pollution is the least of the problems causing allergies, asthma and a host of other illnesses. In-door air has been proven to be many times worse than outdoor. The average home has worse air quality than Los Angeles on a bad day! We spend, on average, 90 percent of our time indoors, and in this age of energy conservation, we've made our homes so airtight that Mother Nature's forces can no longer cleanse our air naturally.

And individual consumers are as much to blame for air quality, both indoors and outdoors, as American industry. Even most so-called environmentalists still contaminate their homes with hundreds of chemical products, from hair and skin care treatments to cleaning products. Most of the materials used in the construction of homes release deadly chemical vapors into tightly sealed living spaces as well.

What can we do other than hide under the bed and do nothing at all? Filter your water, stop eating dairy, exclude chemicals from every product you buy and eat organic food whenever you can. Once you eliminate chemicals from your life, you will not only be healthier, but you will become the most powerful force for change. Government and corporations will never make health and eco-friendly changes on their own. They only respond to the most powerful force in the world: armies of intelligent consumers spending money responsibly.

Alternative, non-toxic products can be found with a minimal amount of effort, especially in the age of the Internet. They're often still more expensive but the benefits far outweigh the costs if you're capable of thinking long term.
Matt Schweder
Nicholasville, KY

Your "Moving Targets" sidebar on auto-related air pollution ("Blue Skies," November/December 1999) offered some astute observations. Perhaps the most insightful is that cars and trucks are here to stay. While we can only hope that new modes of mass transit succeed in car-oriented cities--Los Angeles' MetroLink light rail system is a great example--expecting these modes of transportation to displace millions of cars in cities that have evolved around the automobile is an unreal dream.

The authors correctly state that more efficient and cleaner running cars are part of the answer. That these vehicles are needed is an understatement. But I feel it's important to point out that the mix of these vehicles in the showroom is crucial.

We are in the midst of a developing crisis. We will field ever-larger numbers of cars on the highway, and with these will come ever-growing levels of air pollution, regardless of how cleanly these vehicles burn gasoline. This is mathematical fact. Our job as a society, then, is to demand the production of not only cleaner-running vehicles, but ones that achieve extremely high fuel economy and efficiency.

The new class of hybrid electric vehicles, like Honda's Insight and Toyota's Prius, are an excellent step in the right direction. But we also need battery electric vehicles that produce zero localized emissions for use in urban areas suffering from severe air quality problems. The danger is that in the face of hybrid electric vehicle commercialization, battery electric vehicle development could stall.

The auto industry has come a long way toward accomplishing the goal of introducing electric vehicles to the marketplace. Yet cost issues, infrastructure, and marketing challenges remain. Electric vehicles have largely existed in a realm where the mission is the priority ... something achieved at all costs. However, cost is the central issue with electric vehicles. It's not technology, consumer acceptance, drivability or functionality. Ultimately, these can all be overcome. Simply, battery electric vehicles aren't priced affordably enough for the average consumer ... otherwise they would buy them.

Conquering the cost/price barrier overcomes the biggest obstacle to electric vehicle commercialization. This is no small challenge, to be sure. It's like computers, where fast-tracking the evolution of $10,000 personal computers has resulted in the $500 desktop PCs now residing in our children's rooms. But can this same engineering miracle be accomplished with electric cars, and can the auto industry find the will to make the enormous investment that allows it to do the right thing?

I'm reminded of the words of Henry Ford, who said: "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right." At Green Car Institute, we believe the auto industry can.
Ron Cogan
President, Green Car Institute
San Luis Obispo, CA

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Date:Mar 1, 2000
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