Taps Coogan – October 13th, 2021
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California Governor Newsom has officially signed into law a bill that bans the sale of all small mobile gas engines in the state of California by 2024 (or whenever it can be feasibly implemented). The ban includes lawn mowers, chainsaws, generators, leaf blowers, pressure washers, compressors, etc…
To not much surprise at all, nearly all of the articles we came across on the subject praised the visionary green credentials of the ban and all included variations of the following statement:
“State officials say running a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour emits the same amount of pollution as driving a 2017 Toyota Camry from Los Angeles to Denver, a distance of about 1,100 miles”
Let’s unpack that a bit…
According to the US Department of Energy 2017, a Toyota Camry gets a combined 24 miles to the gallon. That means that driving 1,100 miles will consume nearly 46 gallons of gasoline.
A gallon of gasoline weighs just over 6 pounds and contains roughly 5.3 pounds of carbon. When combusted, a carbon atom bonds with two atoms of oxygen from the air, forming CO2. Those two oxygen atoms are 3.6 times heavier than each carbon atom, meaning that the 5.3 pounds of carbon in a gallon of fuel, when combusted, turns into about 19 pounds of CO2 and trace amounts, fractions of a gram, of non-greenhouse gas local pollutant like carbon monoxide and NMHCs. There are 453 grams in one pound.
So, driving a Camry for 1,100 miles will burn 46 gallons of gas and release 874 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere, roughly speaking.
Now, a 10 second search online reveals that a typical leaf blower consumes roughly 50 fluid ounces of gas per hour. That’s 0.4 gallons.
Using the same math as above, running a leaf-blower for an hour would release about 7.6 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s 115 times less than the 1,100 mile road trip, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with even the slightest degree of common sense.
Now, it is possible that running a two-stroke leaf blower for an hour releases more particulate pollution and other local pollutants than driving for 1,100 miles. Cars have catalytic converters and other pollution control devices that virtually eliminate these pollutants. Small two stroke engines don’t, so they may emit more than nothing, but we are talking about grams per hour, not pounds.
Unless you don’t consider greenhouse gasses to be pollution, which would be quite a novel definition for California, saying a car pollutes less than a leaf blower is, at best, missing all relevant context.
Now a typical person drives about 14,300 miles a year and spends maybe three hours blowing leaves, maybe 20 hours mowing their lawn, and zero hours cutting down trees with a chainsaw. So, they are releasing about 11,360 pounds of CO2 from driving and about 175 pounds for yard care activities, a 65 fold difference. They are also releasing some dozens of grams of local pollutants from either driving or lawn care.
This whole bill is really about local air quality issues and separate from the global warming debate. People pitching it are being intentionally vague about that difference lest they lose the sense of ‘urgency’ required to ban lifesaving technologies like generators.
As far as local pollution goes, the majority of Californians using things like lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and chainsaws for any considerable period of time are, as you might be able to guess, people with large yards. In other words, people living in suburban and rural communities where if there is ever an air quality problem, it’s from forest fires, not the fact that they need a generator because a forest fire has destroyed the electricity infrastructure.
Furthermore, imagine the following situation. There is a storm that causes a power outage and trees fall on your property, blocking your driveway. Because you are banned from buying a $500 gas generator, and can’t afford $30,000 for Tesla Powerwalls, and because most serious electric chainsaws don’t have batteries – they plug into the wall because batteries can’t hold enough power for a long session of work, you won’t have electricity and won’t be able to clear your driveway and get the store, or pharmacy, or hospital, or wherever.
Or imagine you live somewhere rural and need to do chainsaw work in the actual woods. You’d better have a very, very long extension cord.
Regardless, when did the pollution from a 2017 Toyota Camry taking a trip from LA to Denver become the legal standard for what items you are allowed to buy?
Presumably, California is planning to increase on-demand power production to handle the increase in electricity demand that banning everything from gas cars to generators will cause.
P.S. I have made some wide ranging changes to this article to focus my point, in response to a comment below.
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