Why I drive an electric car

by Ernie Hernandez on January 5, 2012

Smog in Los Angeles

Smog in Los Angeles

Pretty simple… it’s the air that we breathe

I was driving from San Diego to Orange County for work yesterday. The view above is of the Los Angeles basin as seen from California State Route 73. SR73 is a toll road that spans about 18 miles from Laguna Hills in the South to Costa Mesa in the north. Please forgive me for taking a picture while I was driving, but I simply had to take this picture. It absolutely represents the core reason of why I chose to buy an electric car.

I grew up in Northern California, specifically in the rural area of the Sacramento Delta. My hometown of Isleton, California had, and continues to have, a population of less than 1,000 individuals. There are a handful of towns like Isleton around the state, but not many. To be fair to the Isletonians, I actually grew up on the outskirts of town, beyond the town limits. This Sacramento Delta region is one of the most fertile areas on earth and provides an agricultural zone that produces certain produce in quantities unmatched anywhere. Sacramento is about 40 miles north of Isleton and San Francisco is about 65 miles southwest. There is a whole lot of farm land in every direction, and it’s home to some of the sweetest strawberries and sweet corn that I’ve ever tasted. You will see why the region where I grew up is important in a moment.

For its first 50 years or so the automobile industry pretty much had free rein to build whatever they wanted to. And they did. But as early as 1955 the Federal Government saw fit to pass the first Air Pollution Control Act as the impact of unregulated automobile production was becoming known. But in fact, smog had first been recorded in Los Angeles as early as 1943, and in 1947 the Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control District was formed. When I graduated from high school in 1973, our graduating class of 77 students got on a school bus and drove to Disneyland – not far from where the above picture was taken. I remember that my eyes burned and watered so badly that it seemed as if I was crying. The air quality differential from our agricultural community to the city of Los Angeles was like night and day. We didn’t even know that as we rode down the Southern California freeways that there were foothills beyond the “haze” that surrounded us. We just couldn’t see them. Our throats burned due to the chemicals that we were breathing. If this what it was like to live in the big city, I wanted nothing to do with it.

Fast forward to today. Production numbers for the automobile industry were released by most major manufacturers yesterday. New vehicles sales in the United States improved to almost 12.8 million in 2011. But that is just new vehicle sales for one year. As of 2009 there were almost 255 million vehicles on US roads according to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Almost all of these cars rely on gasoline in the United States. Pollution regulations today are vastly improved over the vague guidelines that existed almost 60 years ago. But we still have smog.

As I drove over that rise and saw that brown blanket covering the city before me, I needed no further argument to further my embrace of this new technology. Yes, electric cars are expensive. So is the asthma that I developed as an adult, which hospitalized me, almost killed me, and contributed to years of medical treatment that continues to this day. Yes, I am passionate about the choice that I made and will enthusiastically debate the merits of that choice with anyone that chooses to do so. Many are quick to point out the incentives provided by various state and federal government agencies to further the promotion of electric vehicles. “Why should I buy your electric car for you?” is a common complaint. Where were they when the government incentivized the purchase of 12 mile-per-gallon 6,000 pound GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) SUV’s for doctors and lawyers and real estate agents, to a much greater tune than the $7,500 incentive for an EV.

My outlook on life changed when I had kids. My wife, my kids, my family… they mean the world to me. And if by buying an electric car I can help move us away from that brown haze engulfing the world one city at a time, so my kids eyes don’t burn and their throats aren’t on fire just from breathing in the air that is necessary for them to survive, then I think it’s the least I can do.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly Downey January 6, 2012 at 7:27 am

Aloha Ernie, I could not agree with you more. I grew up in the Santa Clara valley in the 60s and 70s. It was a beautiful place. The Loma Prieta mountains separating San Jose from Santa Cruz was in the 60s beautiful and devoid of smog.
Unfortunately as the apricot and prune orchards were torn out to make way for houses we lost a way of generating the oxygen levels that made the valley the pristine area it was.
With the population explosion came a pollution explosion. From the 70s onward, there were days when the once pristine coastal mountains could hardly be seen.
I do not know if we are making a difference driving electric. But I hope that it is the start of something to where we can all breathe a little easier.


Ernie Hernandez (LEAFguy) January 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Kelly – Welcome to Living LEAF. And Aloha back atcha! You live in a beautiful state. I had an opportunity to visit Hawaii last year on business, and had an opportunity to explore a little. It was an enjoyable visit.

If we all can contribute to a greater awareness – be it by driving electric, talking about the importance of the air we breathe, or promoting the idea of being environmentally aware – I think that we can make a difference.


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