The news that Tesla has reached its goal of producing 500,000 electric vehicles is not only great for investors (such as me, even though I have a tiny, tiny stake), but also for those who don’t even know anything about the company. It is good news for anyone and any animal that has a pair of lungs.
Earth is choking on greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions — mostly emitted from the transportation sector through the billions of tailpipes on vehicles driven around the world. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that global greenhouse gas emissions by gas were mostly made up of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes — 65%. The rest was methane (16%), carbon dioxide from forestry and land use (11%), and nitrous oxide (6%).
In 2019, a group of researchers from the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, International Council on Clean Transportation, and University of Colorado at Boulder conducted a study that touched upon the mortality that is caused by tailpipe emissions. What that study found makes me want to grab my inhaler.
The study estimated that emissions from the transportation sector were linked with 361,000 PM2.5- and ozone-related deaths in 2010 and then 385,000 PM2.5-related deaths in 2015. PM2.5 is atmospheric particulate matter with a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers. To demonstrate just how truly small this stuff is, it measures up to about 3% of the diameter of a single human hair.
Those results translated into 11.7% of the total global ambient PM2.5 and ozone deaths in 2010 and 11.4% in 2014. Combined, PM2.5 and ozone concentrations from the tailpipe emissions “resulted in an estimated 7.8 million years of life lost” in 2015 alone.
Think about that for a moment. Humans are causing 7.8 million years of lost life per year from air pollution.
The study also put a dollar estimate on this as well — around $1 trillion in 2015 (in 2015 dollars) in health damages worldwide. The worst culprit contributing to this from the transportation sector was on-road diesel. This, the study said point blank, contributed most to the health burden from the transportation tailpipe emissions in nearly all trade blocs for both PM2.5 and ozone. (A trade bloc is an intergovernmental agreement where, in most cases, barriers to trade are reduced or eliminated among the participating countries — members of NAFTA, for example, or the EU & EFTA.)
Diesel wasn’t alone. Other sub-sectors also had high contributions. Ozone mortality was commonly caused by on-road, non-diesel vehicles. PM2.5-related mortality was commonly caused by shipping and non-road mobile sources.
The study pointed out that despite stricter regulations regarding vehicle emissions, the transportation sector continues to be a major contributor to the air pollution disease burden globally.
China & Europe Had The Highest Deaths
The study did find a lot of variation in the transportation-related health impacts, and it noted that China and India had the greatest transportation-attributable deaths.
The study pointed out that in the EU and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), deaths per 100,000 people were the highest. The fraction of ambient PM2.5 and ozone coming from tailpipes was highest in the EU & EFTA and the NAFTA trade blocs. That fraction is in part due to these countries’ success in reducing non-transport emissions.
The study also noted that diesel contributed the most to the health burden from tailpipe emissions in almost all of the trade blocs for both PM2.5 and ozone. These results show that the need for reducing emissions from the transportation sector has become priority number one. The researchers stated that it needs to be a central element of management plans aimed at reducing ambient air pollution and its burden on public health. (In Europe, luckily, fast progress is underway.)
What Tesla’s 500,000 EVs Mean In This Regard
Tesla has reached a milestone no other automaker has reached — producing 500,000 electric vehicles in one year. This was something that critics often mocked and jeered at Elon Musk for wanting to accomplish, claiming that it was impossible, that it was never going to happen, and that he is crazy for even trying.
However, our very lives depend on Tesla’s success here. Sure, there are other EV makers, but none of them have both the drive and the track record that Tesla has. Large traditional automakers are not 100% focused on sustainability. Young startups have a lot to prove and have to make it past the extremely challenging hurdles Tesla had to make it past.
Legacy automotive profits, in general, are not a bad thing. It’s placing the value of those profits over the livelihoods of your fellow human beings, over your workers’ lives, and so on.
One example of this was an executive officer at Aston Martin creating a PR firm that published a study with misleading information about EVs. The PR company in question was being operated from property owned by Aston Martin’s Director of Government Affairs. You can read more about that here.
In Tesla’s case, profits are needed for it to reach its goal of accelerating the world to sustainable energy — both when it comes to driving EVs and using renewable energy such as solar energy to power our daily lives.
Electric Vehicles Will Clear The Dirt From Our Atmosphere
A passenger vehicle emits around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year — assuming that the average gas vehicle has a fuel economy of around 22 miles per gallon and drives around 11,500 miles a year. The EPA states that from each gallon of gasoline burned, 8,887 grams of carbon dioxide are released into the air. For a gallon of diesel burned, that’s 10,180 grams of carbon dioxide released into the air.
To put it into perspective, imagine that you have 250,000 vehicles that produce diesel emissions and add 250,000 vehicles that produce gasoline emissions. Now, in your mind’s eye, replace them all with 500,000 electric vehicles. This is what Tesla has done for 2020.
It’s a major milestone for Tesla, yet it shows that we still have a long ways to go before the air is clearer. This is why I said that Tesla’s milestone is just a breath of fresh air. It’s a taste of a cleaner future, good health, and breathable air that doesn’t kill. We need many more such breaths.
This is why it’s vital that Tesla succeeds in what it’s doing — and it will. I believe this is largely due to Elon Musk and his personality, drive, and dedication to never giving up on his goals.
I don’t want to lay all of this on Elon’s shoulders, but it seems that he is the only one out there with the drive, the funds, and the heart to ensure the automotive market helps in the preservation of human society. And he is doing everything in his power to transition the world to electric vehicles.
You would think that those in power would actually be concerned that the air they breathe is toxic. But, at least in America, we have a government that doesn’t even care if the average American pays their rent — much less dies of complications caused by air pollution.
We have a lot of work to do.
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