Critics of electric vehicles sometimes try to dismiss them as being only for “tree huggers,” but such commenters seem to be overlooking some critically important facts.
Many of the emissions from gasmobiles are toxic. They contribute to human health problems and numerous premature deaths each year. Heart disease, cancer, asthma, and stroke are some of the worst of human diseases and toxic air pollution is often a factor in these diseases, especially if you live in or near a densely populated area.
Brain diseases can now also be added to the list. “Some of the health risks of inhaling fine and ultra fine particles are well-established, such as asthma, lung cancer, and, most recently, heart disease. But a growing body of evidence suggests that exposure can also harm the brain, accelerating cognitive aging, and may even increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”
That lung cancer risk is raised by air pollution exposure probably doesn’t surprise a huge number of people, but overall cancer risk is too. “Air pollution doesn’t just increase the risk of lung cancer, new research shows. A study of thousands of elderly people living in Hong Kong showed that long-term exposure to pollution from tiny but toxic air particles increased their risk of dying from any cancer by 22 percent.”
Heart attacks are one of the leading causes of death in the US and, again, air pollution can play a role in their development. “A new academic study led by UCLA researchers has revealed that the smallest particles from vehicle emissions may be the most damaging components of air pollution in triggering plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.”
Of course, the highest levels of air pollution can be found in the largest cities due to the presence of a tremendous number of gas-powered vehicles and diesel vehicles.
It’s funny how electric vehicle (EV) critics don’t mention a single thing about how toxic the emissions from gasmobiles are and that EVs don’t produce any. Environmental issues don’t just concern penguins — they concern humans too!
Now, some people say that EVs are charged using electricity from coal and natural gas power plants, and that is sometimes true. However, because electric motors are 3–4 times more efficient than gasoline/diesel engines, and because the emissions of power plants are easier to contain, electric vehicles are still significantly cleaner. Also, those power plants are often not located inside huge cities, so their emissions are not directly contributing to toxic urban air pollution in the same way gasmobiles do every day. Further, many electric vehicle drivers actually have rooftop solar panels to cover their extra electricity use and the overall grid is getting greener practically every month as it shifts more and more to renewable energy and away from coal.
If you live in a big city and have to commute during rush hour traffic, you are breathing polluted air from cars, and it’s sad to say, but doing so is very unhealthy.
Currently, most of the EVs in American are in California, but they still don’t make up that much of the state’s fleet. Gradually, they will, and air pollution within major cities like LA, San Jose, San Diego, Sacramento, and San Francisco will decrease. Eventually, there might not be many gasmobiles left at all. At that point, it will be very interesting to see how much the number of premature deaths will drop as the number of cases of heart disease, lung cancer, and so forth drop.
I’ll take an anecdotal side road for a bit here. Skip to the next line if anecdotes about California driving don’t interest you.
Have you ever lived in a city with millions of other people and millions of gasmobiles? I once lived in LA — actually, it was Santa Monica and I worked near LAX. Driving every day on the 405 freeway with a tremendous number of highly polluting gasmobiles was kind of like its own special version of hell. It could easily take 45 minutes to travel all of about 7 miles to work, and the same to get home after the work day was finished. That was 90 minutes of directly breathing toxic air pollution each work day.
One Sunday, I decided to visit a new cafe that I read about in a local newspaper. So I left my apartment in Santa Monica before noon and drove towards Melrose Avenue, a distance of about 11 miles. About one hour and forty-five minutes later, I arrived. Yes, for those 11 miles, the average speed was about 7 miles per hour, breathing gasmobile air pollution the whole time. After a not-so-great experience, it took another 105 minutes or so to get home, so it was over 200 minutes of direct exposure to toxic air pollution for a small outing.
Fortunately, I got a different job, so I started commuting from Santa Monica to Malibu, which meant avoiding the freeway and using surface streets to get to the Pacific Coast Highway, which is right next to Santa Monica Bay. There is much less air pollution because the PCH is very small compared to any LA freeway and there are far fewer gasmobiles on this coastal highway.
Even there, traffic at certain times could back up for miles, and then you have the same problem. You are sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic breathing tailpipe emissions for an hour, at least. The air pollution is harmful to us, but we’d rather not think about it.
Once, on the way home from work, there was an accident, so traffic on the PCH was stopped. My drive home was only about 10 miles, but it took 2.5 hours. It’s perhaps not the time wasted that matters most. It’s the hours of exposure to harmful air pollution. If you imagine similar traffic nightmares but only with EVs, there would be zero tailpipe emissions. How much will that reduce lung cancer, heart disease, and premature death?
Prior to living in LA, I also lived in England for a while. As an American undergraduate student in London, I had never seen so many diesel taxis, or diesel vehicles of any kind. Sometimes, after classes and in my flat, I would notice that my nose was full of something like soot.
One time, when I was in a cab, I asked the driver about how many of the iconic black vehicles there were at that time. He said about 14,000. London has taken up a leadership role in this regard now, with these taxis being replaced by extended-range electric vehicles. Common sense arrives in London!
In Germany, millions of diesel vehicles may be banned from cities because they produce too much toxic air pollution. While this development may be shocking to some, it has been known for a long time that air pollution is harmful to humans. In that sense, it’s not an environmental issue like the conservation of wild lands. It is a human public health issue and a very large one.
It would intriguing if in Germany there could be some kind of industry and government collaboration to replace the worst-polluting diesels with all-electric EVs in the cities with the most harmful air pollution. In other words, not to retrofit the diesels to reduce emissions, or to let them drive outside cities, but to replace them with EVs which produce zero emissions.
The greater adoption of EVs will reduce very high levels of toxic air pollution in cities. Eventually, some cities might only have EVs, and residents of these places will be healthier. To re-iterate, EVs are not only for “tree huggers” or “hippies” or “greens,” because they are better for human health. We need them in order to be healthier.