Relax and take a deep breath

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LET ME go a bit against the grain here. Have you seen the Metro Manila skyline lately? It’s incredible. Frankly, I didn’t anticipate the day when I could look forward to opening my windows in Makati to welcome in some refreshing whiffs of crisp, clean air as flocks of birds occasionally fly by, or ever notice that it was actually possible for me to peer straight into the horizon of Manila Bay, while watching a beautiful sunset silhouette of a bunch of ships floating close to our harbor.

Gosh, I always daydreamed about what our Makati Central Business District would look and feel like if we at least had the air quality of Singapore (not during the haze, of course) — and this is it! This is as good as it can get.

This is how breathtaking (pun intended) a regular day in our metropolis could be, if only we could, as the country’s capital, rid ourselves of our daily sources of air pollution. Yes, I’d like to think that these last few months of the community quarantine may actually be our “free trial period” of how amazing our urban air quality could be, if we completely shifted to electric vehicles (EVs)! Wishful thinking comes for free, doesn’t it? I wish it was as simple as having us all agree on this one thing, and then clicking “subscribe” to opt in.

I know, I know… We’ve got a hell of a long way to go! But I think we’re already off to a positive start. And doesn’t it always help to have a little prelude of the grand prize to give that extra nudge of encouragement? The largest ever number of local automotive players have begun announcing their interest (pledges, even) to bring in electric vehicles to the Philippines, since last year. I cannot wait for Nissan Philippines to bring in their world-acclaimed Nissan Leaf for Filipinos to consider. I also am closely following the progress of the MX-30 — Mazda’s first-ever plug-in electric vehicle, which will soon be commercially available in Europe — and am clutching my seat as I await when its debut in the ASEAN region may be.

Meanwhile, even the lavish, performance-driven brands have started going in this direction. Lotus has announced that interested Filipino customers may order and customize the specs of their latest all-electric hypercar, the Evija — whose manufacture will begin in the latter part of 2020.

Furthermore, we all know about the government’s ongoing push to convert PUVs into e-jeepneys and e-trikes. Why, even electric motorcycles are (finally) slowly gaining some recognition among riders, and are beginning to build their own unique fanbase. Yes, I agree that EV progress is slow, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. And I’m banking on the fact that maybe more people will be convinced now that they’ve gotten a free taste of the bigger picture. Or maybe some people (like motoring journalists, ahem) should point it out to their faces — just in case it’s something they haven’t yet realized without someone else deconstructing it for them.

And we have everything to gain. Everything. Isn’t our current COVID-19 predicament a global health concern? As we know, clean air isn’t just about a visual appreciation of clear skies, epic sunsets, and the overall magnificence of nature. It isn’t fantasizing about whether the Philippines could ever feel like a first-world country (environmentally, at least). Clean air is not simply an aspiration of the financially free, who seek the luxury of driving their convertibles top-down into the city. Rather, the benefits of clean air are universal. Clean air is a huge economic gain for all Filipinos — simply because, well, health is wealth!

Some individuals have argued that clean air is the least of the problems of our poor (after all, breathing air is free), and yet I think they fail to recognize that poor air quality often leads to respiratory issues — and these all come with economic cost, including a budget line from the government. Not only is it a simple computation of accumulated medical costs; it should factor in productive years of life lost from being less fit for work.

Ultimately, a complete shift to electric vehicles is no silver bullet for solving our air quality concerns and/or keeping our carbon emissions at bay. They do have their own setbacks, and we are far from having perfected the manufacture and recycling process of high-capacity batteries. But as with anything, we have to start somewhere — and as soon as possible. Frankly, I’d love to wake up to beautiful, clear morning skies and to pleasant views of cyclists traveling alongside EVs because, for once, they don’t have to huff and puff toxic fumes!

Don’t you?