This may sound like the easy solution – just replace your gas-guzzling SUV with an electric SUV, and if everyone does, eventually we’ll solve climate change. You can see why California regulators decided last month that by 2035, all new cars sold in the state must be electric. after all, Car exhaust is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in CaliforniaSo certainly converting gas-powered cars to electric cars would make a huge dent in fighting climate change.
Except it isn’t. For starters, electric cars still pollute. They do not have tailpipe emissions, but the process of their production and transportation creates pollution. According to the International Energy Agency, the average gas-powered car will create 41.9 tons of CO2 emissions from that point until it is retired, as opposed to 21.1 tons of CO2 from an EV. In other words, while the average EV will pollute about 50% less than a gas-powered car, it is still highly polluting.
There are also pollution and other disadvantages, which come before the manufacturing phase, especially in the intense global competition for the purchase of rare earth materials (concentrated in China) for EV batteries. In the past, we have often relied on the Middle East for oil. Do we want to create a future in which we are again dependent on countries that may not align with our values for the materials our transportation system needs?
The second issue is power efficiency. During the first week of September, California suffered a historic heat wave, and alerts were issued asking EV owners not to charge their vehicles during peak hours. And this is at a time when Only 1.9% of cars are driving in California There are EVs. What happens when that number is 5%? or 20%? It would not be possible to supply electricity to all EVs without the dramatic increase in electricity generation from clean sources, accelerating the use of coal and natural gas for power generation, and increasing emissions from fossil fuels.
There are some bottom lines that are true whether cars are powered by fossil fuels or electricity:
Electric cars are just as dangerous to people outside the car; If you get hit by a 9,000-pound electric Hummer or a 7,000-pound gas Hummer, you’re dead either way. EVs are just as dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists as their gas-powered cousins, and they’re a recipe for adoption without changing the way we use space on our roads. Increasing trend of death of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers,
Electric cars take up as much space as gas-powered cars; Even if we could wave a stick and convert every car on the road to an EV today, traffic would still be miserable, and the demand for driving and parking space would continue to suck the blood of life out of our cities.
Additionally, car based infrastructure is very expensive. In 1982, President Reagan signed a law that allocated 80% of the Highway Trust Fund to highways and 20% to public transportation. This means the country has built and maintained an extraordinarily expensive road network at the expense of investing in quality high-speed trains and other non-car infrastructure. In 2019, We Spent $203 Billion Nationwide on highways and roads, and this amount is less than what is needed. (The Highway Trust Fund doesn’t actually cover all maintenance costs of highways, and we haven’t raised the federal gas tax since 1993.)
Even if all cars were electric, we would still spend a disproportionate amount of money building and maintaining car infrastructure to build world-class high-speed rail, bus or bike infrastructure in and between our cities. We will still have the old parking requirements for developers – which drive up housing costs and increase sprawl. And because EVs typically weigh more than their gas-powered counterparts, and heavier vehicles wear out faster, we’ll need to spend even more money on maintenance over the long term.
Electric cars are not a panacea for solving climate change. They may be part of the solution, but as a short-sighted focus on electric cars The solution prevents us from looking at many other ideas. We need a future with fewer cars (electric or not) and more public transport and bike access. We need to completely rethink how we use our public space, and better infrastructure so that people can take short trips without using a car.
There is no shortcut to solving climate change. We shouldn’t assume that once every gas-powered car is replaced with electric, we’ll solve the problem – because we won’t. Instead we should put our energy into re-engineering how we use our street space, to really curb pollution and unnecessary death and bring life back to our cities.
Michael Schneider is the founder of Streets for All.