If you’re not familiar with “externalities,” you really should be (click that link). The quick summary is that externalities are costs (and sometimes benefits) imposed on others but not included in the price of a good. As soon as you learn a bit more about them, you’ll learn than cars, trucks, and fossil fuel power plants are some of the worst culprits when it comes to externalities. As an example, take a look at the findings from a recent EU study:
A recent study from Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) commissioned by the Greens/European Free Allianace (EFA) in the European Parliament concluded that the cars used within the EU-27 externalize up to about €373 billion (US$493 billion) per year (high estimate) of costs on to other people, other regions and other generations. The low estimate is external costs of €258 billion (US$341 billion).
The study focused on the larger environmental costs of car traffic (plus accident costs not covered by insurance)—i.e., air pollution; noise, upstream and downstream effects (covering all effects before and after the actual trip is performed); smaller other effects (land use, separational effects etc.); and climate change (focused on avoidance costs rather than damage costs). Neither infrastructure costs (area purchase, construction, maintenance, demolition, administration of infrastructure) nor congestion costs were included.
Costs for nature and landscape (water and soil pollution, resealing of land, habitat fragmentation and restoration, scenic beauty, biodiversity, etc.) were covered under “smaller other costs”, as were costs due to fragmentation of space and land use costs.
But the bottom line is this: cars cost much, much more than what we pay for them (and to run them). If we were an intelligent people, we would find ways to adequately price all of the externalities above, so that we don’t overvalue their benefits. That’s a difficult task politically… despite the fact that it would greatly benefit society. Funny world we live in, isn’t it.
Drop a note below or connect with me on your favorite social media site to chat.
I'm the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular clean energy website in the world, and Planetsave, a leading green and science news site. I've been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and I've been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, bicycling, and wind energy for the past few years. You can also find my work on Scientific American, Reuters, Think Progress, GE's ecomagination site, several sites in the Important Media network, & many other places. To connect on some of your favorite social networks, go to zacharyshahan.com or click on some of the links below.