The cognitive costs of air
November 19, 2019 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Chess players make more mistakes on polluted days. Air pollution is a very big deal. Its adverse effects on numerous health outcomes and general mortality are widely documented.
posted by colinprince (43 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
And still motherfuckers want to live in the suburbs and drive their cars everywhere.

I told the city planners they should ban private vehicles from Bloor street south. Absolutely no cars in the core. I'll be actually happy if they get the cars off a few stretches of Yonge because once that shit starts, it snowballs. Once people see how awesome it is to have a block without cars, they want more, and more. They close the streets to traffic all the time for festivals, concerts, races, art events, whatever, and the world doesn't end. It should just be permanent. Close a street, it stays closed.

Fuckin' cars, man.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:46 AM on November 19, 2019 [23 favorites]


Eventually they will discover that lead poisoning is behind the London System
posted by thelonius at 6:50 AM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


Fuckin' cars, man.

In cities, cars are responsible for less air pollution than one might expect.

In NYC, for example, car traffic is only responsible for 5% of the PM2.5 (one of the main pollutants that harms your health). Trucks are 12%. Emissions from buildings are responsible for 50% (source), with road dust, construction, and electricity generation making up the rest.

It's a small amount but still has significant health impacts.
posted by entropone at 7:01 AM on November 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


entropone, that's a dead link for me. I'm surprised and skeptical, because I'd imagine that most electricity generation happens off-site, and I can smell the difference in air quality between a city park and a city street busy with cars. Also, all the pollution maps (including PM2.5) I've seen of my city show the worst spots to be high-traffic intersections.
posted by daveliepmann at 7:19 AM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


It wasn't a dead link for me, but I also couldn't find the 50% number for buildings, either. Of course, I live in Philadelphia, so my cognitive performance is probably compromised by all of the cheese whiz particulates floating around.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:33 AM on November 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


Weird, it's not a dead link for me - it should turn up if you google "The Public Health Impacts of PM2.5 from Traffic Air Pollution, NYC." (grumpybear, look for the big circular chart. It's actually 49% but I round.)

I work with a bunch of city air scientists, so can follow up with them, but I speculate that the PM2.5 hotspots are in high traffic areas because the boiler emissions are spread around cities more evenly - there's a greater variation in traffic density, so traffic density drives differences in PM2.5 even though it's not responsible for most PM2.5. And, your nose doesn't lie to you - parks not only are places where there aren't emissions, but they also remove pollutants from the air.

Electricity generation happens off-site, but heat is generated onsite, and it's done by burning coal, oil, or gas. Here's a page from the EPA on it.
posted by entropone at 7:33 AM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Thanks entropone—the issue was on my end; switching browsers fixed it. I appreciate your explanation. Seeing the graph clarifies a lot, too, like cooking as a major source (a bit oddly listed under "buildings", but OK).
posted by daveliepmann at 7:42 AM on November 19, 2019


A lot of “Road dust” comes from tyres and brakes doesn’t it? Vehicles are still responsible for that, even if it didn’t come out of their exhausts.
posted by pharm at 7:58 AM on November 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


And don't forget that high levels of carbon dioxide impair cognition as well.

Here's a chart that gives projections of CO2 through the year 2300.
posted by MrVisible at 8:01 AM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]




Yes, very fine particulate matter is produced by brakes and tires. A lot of people think that asbestos has been outlawed, but Durabla Black brake materials (as one example) were manufactured with asbestos through at least 1999, and there is always deadstock that's still being used somewhere.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:21 AM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Yes! Let’s talk about this more! I’ve had an air quality monitor for the past year (Purple Air!), and I honestly couldn’t imagine life without it. It shows me the negative effects on my indoor air quality of cooking, or leaving the window open on days when wildfire pollution is swirling by (seems to be a yearly fall issue in North America nowadays). And it shows me the effectiveness of my air purifier, so that I’m not blindly guessing when my filters need to be changed (saving me a lot of money). And, since I can see my neighbors’ outdoor readings, I know when I should wear a mask outside. I love it.

Now that I’m always aware of the quality of the air I’m breathing (outside of work; that place is an ancient black box...) I’m able to relate it to my moods and health, and there absolutely is a correlation.

I give it another 5 years before this is talked about in the mainstream, like the weather is. Can’t come soon enough. It’s so important.
posted by mantecol at 8:29 AM on November 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


After decades of improved air quality in the U.S., the trend reversed in 2017 and 2018, with deadly consequences for an estimated 10,000 people.

It's sometimes hard to make the argument for additional environmental regulations: If you acknowledge that conditions are significantly better than they were a decade ago, and WAYYY better than in the 70's, then the response might be: OK, we've fixed the problem. Focus on the remaining problems, and the answer might be: See, I told you it wouldn't work.

"Well, you see, each additional restriction has a cost and benefit. The original regulations had huge benefits and relatively small costs, and admittedly, further restrictions will - on average, but not always - have higher costs and smaller marginal benefits. Still, they are worthwhile, and save lives, and that's not even thinking about the critical need to now focus on decarbonization and other ways to moderate climate change..." "Sorry, what were you saying?"
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:34 AM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Maybe instead you say: “We’ve already solved the parts that were easy to solve, now we have to take on the hard parts. But it’s still worth it.”
posted by argybarg at 8:46 AM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


And still motherfuckers want to live in the suburbs and drive their cars everywhere.

Do you have this much disdain for everyone who doesn't live in some unimaginably overpriced dwelling deep inside a city??
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:50 AM on November 19, 2019 [13 favorites]


This story about a local study of indoor air quality using wearable sensors was really useful. And probably most of us have already seen the thing about air pollution and brain cancer by now.

Anyway, driving motor vehicles less often might not have an appreciable effect on global catastrophic climate change. However, it's got a measurable, obvious effect on the health of the people immediately around us, and we owe it to ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and any random assholes who happen to be somewhere in the vicinity when we turn on the engine to do better.
posted by asperity at 8:51 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised and skeptical, because I'd imagine that most electricity generation happens off-site, and I can smell the difference in air quality between a city park and a city street busy with cars.

That's because you can't smell the level of particulate matter in the air, but you can smell other pollutants. On a city street, cars definitely are responsible for a lot of those local pollutants, but that's not the same as saying they are responsible for the particulate matter. Also, in parks you can smell trees, dirt, etc, not just the absence of pollutants.
posted by ssg at 9:03 AM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


On air quality alert days in NYC, the city will release warnings telling people not to go outside, go jogging, etc... but they never ask that people refrain from driving on those days. Really shows where everyone's priorities lie.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:49 AM on November 19, 2019 [12 favorites]


Really? Even Indiana urges people to "carpool, walk, bike, or use public transportation when possible."
posted by Not A Thing at 10:11 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


NY does too.
posted by entropone at 10:17 AM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just shared this with my colleagues at school. Lahore schools had to be closed for a couple of days last week because the air quality was so bad. Ours is from a mix of crop-stubble burning, poorly regulated industry (brick kilns and furnaces), poorly regulated vehicular traffic, and coal fired power plants. The problem is getting worse every year, with nary a constructive attempt by the government to address the issue.
posted by bardophile at 10:24 AM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


I don’t necessarily think avoiding cars on high pollution days is the right thing to do. Pollution is generated over long periods of time, and it sits over cities due to weather patterns. Even if everyone in the city stopped driving for the day, it wouldn’t immediately clear up the air. And a car is probably a safer place to be than huffing and puffing on the sidewalk on days when it’s polluted out.

I definitely agree with taking a comprehensive look at the most impactful ways to improve urban air quality. It’s so important, and people should be thinking about it every day, not just in knee-jerk reactions to news reports and alerts.
posted by mantecol at 10:27 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


GoblinHoney's comment defending cars as necessary for people to live outside high-density urban areas raises a good point. They are necessary for that! But they shouldn't be. I'd like to think that if the economic energy that currently goes into private urban (and commuter) vehicle ownership went into public transport instead, life in the suburbs would at least be bearable without a car.

Speaking just from my personal effete leftist urban perspective, I am willing to disexternalise the environmental costs of non-urban residental property. It's only as cheap as it is because the pollution inherent in the lifestyle isn't currently being priced.
posted by Fraxas at 10:31 AM on November 19, 2019 [19 favorites]


Mr.Know-it-some: After decades of improved air quality in the U.S., the trend reversed in 2017 and 2018, with deadly consequences for an estimated 10,000 people.

And it might get worse: New Trump vehicle emission rules prompt fear in Sacramento of federal road-fund loss (Tony Bizjak for The Sacramento Bee, November 18, 2019)
The Trump Administration intends to lower national emissions standards on Nov. 26 for new cars and trucks, pre-empting California’s tougher state emission restrictions. California has sued. [SacBee x2]

In an odd twist, that regulatory change next week could cause the Sacramento region and other metropolitan areas around the state to fall out of compliance with federal Clean Air Act air quality rules. If that happens, those areas may no longer qualify for federal funds needed to build infrastructure to keep up with planned growth.
Trump and His Party of Pollution -- Environmental destruction may be their biggest legacy. (Op Ed by Paul Krugman for NY Times, Nov. 14, 2019)

Trump Has a Terrifying New Plan to Poison the Air, Water, Humans -- The EPA has drafted a proposal that would all but make it impossible to enact public health regulations. (Bess Levin for Vanity Fair, November 12, 2019)

Trump's Energy Policies Could Affect Air Quality in 2050, Say Scientists (Rosie McCall for Newsweek, Oct. 25, 2019)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:46 AM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I am willing to disexternalise the environmental costs of non-urban residental property

I am thinking of all the people who would be made homeless because they can't afford to live in a dense, urban environment, but now can't afford to live in the outskirts either. Myself among them.

Such a move would have to go hand-in-hand with a big progressive change in housing policy, making housing more affordable in dense areas.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:53 AM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


Even if everyone in the city stopped driving for the day, it wouldn’t immediately clear up the air.

Not super new, and I think I've seen more recent numbers somewhere but can't lay my hands on them at the moment: aggregated individual behavior changes really do result in measurable air quality changes within a day.

And a car is probably a safer place to be than huffing and puffing on the sidewalk on days when it’s polluted out.


It's generally still a net reduction in mortality risk to bike rather than drive a car.
posted by asperity at 10:55 AM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


driving motor vehicles less often might not have an appreciable effect on global catastrophic climate change

The social and likely legal changes required to notably reduce individual car use would have an effect. And they would push people's attention to larger scale polluters, since it wouldn't be so easy to dismiss factories by saying "but look at all those cars."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:20 AM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Such a move would have to go hand-in-hand with a big progressive change in housing policy, making housing more affordable in dense areas.

Which would be a net positive AFAICT.

if the economic energy that currently goes into private urban (and commuter) vehicle ownership went into public transport instead

This. Yet another reason Google can go jump in a lake; they could have thrown a bunch of money into BART and AC Transit instead of fucking private buses. Rising tide lifts all boats my ass.

It's generally still a net reduction in mortality risk to bike rather than drive a car.
I had a conversation about this with a friend who is a medical doctor and specifically works on particulate pollution in Montreal - IIRC she said there's actually a higher risk of lung problems among urban cyclists, ironically because of their increased lung capacity and correlative higher concentration of foreign particles deeper in the alveoli.

The other health benefits probably make up for it?
posted by aspersioncast at 11:35 AM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


I had a conversation about this with a friend who is a medical doctor and specifically works on particulate pollution in Montreal - IIRC she said there's actually a higher risk of lung problems among urban cyclists, ironically because of their increased lung capacity and correlative higher concentration of foreign particles deeper in the alveoli.

Yeah, that’s what I was trying to get at. I don’t own a car, and walking is my default mode of transportation, but on days when I think exercising outside for long periods of time will do me more harm than good, you’ll absolutely find me catching a car ride. I’d be fine with everyone behaving this way as well. Sometimes air pollution is not due to cars or factories, but rather due to wildfires, and I don’t think I should have to pay an acute personal price for that.
posted by mantecol at 11:56 AM on November 19, 2019


For God's sake, won't somebody think of the chessplayers?
posted by notmtwain at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


A lot of “Road dust” comes from tyres and brakes doesn’t it? -- pharm

All the more reason for using electric cars, which use regenerative braking much of the time, which creates no dust. (Tires are another issue).

The London Underground was found to have quite a bit of particulate pollution due to brakes and dust.
posted by eye of newt at 1:20 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if part of the cars thing is just that they kick up the dust that's fallen out of the air onto the streets. Seems it would also be nice if there could be air filters on everything that moves air around... all those rooftop AC units and heat exchangers, make them clean the air while they're at it. The air passing over your radiator, filter it. Make transportation have a vacuum to a filter that removes more than it produces.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:28 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


The social and likely legal changes required to notably reduce individual car use would have an effect. And they would push people's attention to larger scale polluters, since it wouldn't be so easy to dismiss factories by saying "but look at all those cars."

Absolutely true. Was thinking more about any one specific individual action than the aggregate for that comment.
posted by asperity at 2:29 PM on November 19, 2019


I had a conversation about this with a friend who is a medical doctor and specifically works on particulate pollution in Montreal - IIRC she said there's actually a higher risk of lung problems among urban cyclists, ironically because of their increased lung capacity and correlative higher concentration of foreign particles deeper in the alveoli.

This Montreal study is newer than the last time I looked into this, and the results are scary.

That said, I would really prefer that the answer be severely restricting private automobiles at times when air pollution is high enough to be dangerous and otherwise providing more routes for walking and biking that actually go places that are off-limits to private automobiles. The hell with individual solutions that make the collective problem worse.
posted by asperity at 2:37 PM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Also, the problem with biking is not that the air quality is better inside a car than it is on a bike (it's about the same), it's that you're breathing a lot more air, so you take in a lot more pollution. It seems like an electric bike could be a good solution here to reduce your health risk to a more reasonable level, while not making the collective problem worse.
posted by ssg at 5:09 PM on November 19, 2019


But I like my acoustic bike. Can we just reroute all the cars somewhere else instead? We should have Barcelona-style superblocks with the middles for walking, bicycling, and playing an awful lot of chess now that we can't blame our lack of skills on air pollution.
posted by asperity at 6:38 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Would probably really help the urban air situation and be much more feasible to just make all the cars electric.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:16 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Would certainly help, but they need to stop with the brake and tire dust and also the murdering via blunt force trauma.
posted by asperity at 7:35 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


In NYC, for example, car traffic is only responsible for 5% of the PM2.5

NYC is an extreme outlier when it comes to transportation and energy use in the US. Fewer than half of the households in New York City own even one car. Meanwhile there are entire states that have more cars than people. Data about NYC is interesting but may not apply to most other parts of the country. Compare to Utah for example.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:25 PM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


(Or Europe for another data point.)
posted by mbrubeck at 8:31 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I live in a town that has some of the worst (perhaps the worst) air quality in the country — our PM 2.5 levels regularly are in the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and often in “unhealthy” or even occasionally “hazardous”. For us, in the summer it’s wildfire smoke, but in the winter (when most of the air quality problems occur) it’s due to inversions which trap polluted air—mostly due to woodsmoke. We have burn bans, but of course, not everyone follows them (and it’s likely the folks burning wet wood who will ignore burn bans, too).

We’re designated a serious non-attainment zone per the EPA, but it’s not clear if Trump’s EPA cares.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:10 PM on November 19, 2019


A few of these studies, like the claims of a massive effect of Manhattan pollution on a single day's stock market moves, seem very improbable to me.


(Also FWIW I'm in the suburbs because I like clean air and being able to bike places in non-insane traffic . . . )

posted by mark k at 11:00 PM on November 19, 2019


Can we just reroute all the cars somewhere else instead?

Hugely in favor of this - here in DC it really wouldn't be difficult to ban private car traffic throughout the historic boundary of the city - say south of Florida Ave. and North of Minn. Ave SE.
You could still allow cabs and ride-hailing cars that are clearly marked, and keep trucks and buses in dedicated lanes.

Would certainly help, but they need to stop with the brake and tire dust and also the murdering via blunt force trauma.
My proposal ought to help with that too! I love biking in the city, but my current average of three injurious car impacts in 10 years (and several minor impacts that didn't cause any real damage) isn't . . . great.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:38 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


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