by Katie Bonnett
During the months of April and May 2020, after the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, LA had some of the cleanest air of any major city in the United States.
Normally air pollution can lead to health issues such as asthma, bronchitis, and stress to the heart and lungs. Due to these health issues, we must address air quailty. One of the biggest contributors to air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels, the best way to improve air quality is to use more renewable sources of energy.
For instance, wind power can help improve the quality of the air. “[W]hen a wind turbine generates electricity, it produces zero carbon emissions.” The more wind power used, the less emissions produced by fossil fuel plants. In 2019, California used wind energy for 6.83% of its state generation. Additional benefits include that wind power “saves billions of gallons of water a year, and cuts pollution that creates smog and triggers asthma attacks.” The downsides are that it affects the bird and bat populations; the turbines sometimes catch fire and leak fluids; and the energy produced is also difficult to store. Given that fire and fluid leaks are rare occurrences, the expansion of wind energy usage would improve air quality over the usage of fossil fuels.
If the downsides of wind power are too much for communities to consider using it, then nuclear energy could be a viable alternative. “[N]uclear power does not produce greenhouse gas emissions like methane and CO2.” Other benefits are that nuclear plants run smoothly without maintenance for long periods of time, and that the costs of running those plants are lower than that of fossil fuel plants. In 2019, nuclear energy accounted for 20% of total electrical output in the U.S. Since nuclear energy generates a substantial percentage of electric power, there is more support for using nuclear energy as a sustainable power source. Some of the downsides of nuclear energy are that it is expensive to build one power plant and the waste is radioactive. However, a project called the Vit Plant turns nuclear waste into a stable solid (glass) form that won’t leak into the environment. The glass can also be safely stored, alleviating the waste problem.
One drawback of sustainable energy is the problem of storage. New technology like the flow battery could address this issue. Flow batteries are more stable than other alternatives, they last longer, and are more resistant to flame. If this technology was mass produced it could make sustainable energy more desirable. People can ask their city officials that their area uses more sustainable power sources. The more people who ask their city officials, the more likely sustainable energy use will increase. A new demand for sustainable electricity could open the door for wind and nuclear technology to break the reliance on fossil fuels. As a result, air quality would get better.
Due to the health effects of bad air quality, it is important that the amount of pollutants in the air improves. More widespread use of sustainable energy sources would improve air quality, thereby improving human health. Sources like wind and nuclear power are good alternatives, which need championing from citizens and neighbors.